New York- After the past three years of my life were largely wasted in terms of career, I’m finally taking the plunge back into the wider world. Since 9/11 until March 2020, I had made a name for myself, not a big name but a respectable one, for simply putting myself in various war zones around the old world, getting the story, and getting it out there come hell or high water. Or sometimes both. Editors neither knew nor seemed much to care how I would get to such often remote places but I gained a reputation a a guy who somehow got things done. I thought of myself as sort a Michael Clayton-like character in the journalism world. I somehow got things done. No one was quite sure how but I continually produced results. Sure I had a couple of abject failures over the years. The first time I went to Syria was to try and sneak over the Tigris into Iraq and was denied. The time I went to Georgia to hike into Chechnya and the English journalist I was hoping to go with took off without me and then was subsequently killed by a Russian sniper during a firefight in Ingushetia. The time Russia invaded Georgia and my bag got left behind at JFK with all my chargers in it. By the time I got it, the five day long hot war had already ended.
But far more were the victories. Right time, right place, right or wrong side of history depending on one’s perspective. Afghanistan during the fall of the Taliban. Baghdad the day W declared major combat operations were over. The siege of Kobane, the siege of ar-Raqqa and so forth. It all ground to a halt in March 2020 when the world, my world was frozen shut. A sucession of disastrous lockdowns were declared across the globe save for the most strident or lenient of societies. Everything I had worked for, everything I had known suddenly seemed to have ended. Here in New York City, the lockdown was lifted until months later as a snowstorm was barreling down on the city the then mayor declared a snow-induced lockdown. The rationale for the first one I felt like I mostly understood even if I disagreed with its overall which was to not overstretch the hospital system’s carrying capacity rather actually help people. But then we were to lockdown because of a snowstorm and then lock down a few weeks later for another one. I didn’t know when if ever this bizarre, poorly thought out new normal was going to end. In many of the places where I spend much of my time outside the country, Barcelona and Thailand, the measures were far more draconian.
Then came the summer of 2022 and suddenly all of my younger, hipper friends in a particular section of Brooklyn were traveling to Europe with abandon. Every week on Instagram someone in that crew, or squad as they say today, was in a major European city having what looked like the time of their lives. Had everyone saved of government pandemic funds in 2020-2021 gaming out the lockdown would eventually end and the moment the world reopened it was time for good times again?
Foolishly, I didn’t save a penny of that money. I did tangible projects like built and rebuilt bikes and rebuilt almost the entirety of my cherished cargo van. My friends were splashing around the beaches of Sicily sipping in Aperol spritzs playfully being the “spritz squad” or walking around the more splendid arrondisments of Paris or the carrers of Barcelona as if nothing had ever happened. Meanwhile I was effectively stranded at home. I didn’t plan ahead. I had colleagues tramping around the bullet-riddled plains of eastern Ukraine or hanging around a gossipy Baghdad tea house back in action. Back in the game, I couldn’t explain to anyone I had no way to suddenly reboot my war reporting career because it was all always self-funded. I made my money on the back end. The deal was sealed when the story was printed. After the TV spot aired. My business model simply didn’t work any longer. My house of cards had collapsed. People here at home were assuming I had voluntarily given up my life abroad. “Did you get bored of the war stuff?” they would ask. I didn’t know how to answer.
Now after much shuffling, I’m reconstructing my house of cards. Leaving country after over three years by the grace of almighty god. In fact it’s been so long since I’ve been on a flight, the last time I was in a plane taking off was at Boryspil airport outside Kyiv. I was exploring the maidan after a stint in Greece on a layover and came home telling friends that the Ukrainian capital was a must see. It was a perfect mix of old Europe, drab Sovietism and gauche nouveau riche.
So now I’m doing a whole bunch things, or rather plan to, back out in the wider world. I’ve set up the Fabled City channel with ideas of doing a video series among other things. This may work or it may fail miserably but I’m going to try hard as hell either way. Join me on the journey.