Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book update

Whoa! Excuse me while I wipe the dust off this blog. The book is coming along nicely. It took me months to establish a routine of writing everyday. I admit the writing part for me, is not very exciting. In addition to that I didn't have much confidence in my writing ability. Initially I thought I would just take all my notes and journals and put them in book form. That was a mistake. The writing was too simple. I explained to a friend that my early writings were the equivalent of drawing stick figures. Then I went nuts and started writing as if I was painting the Sistene Chapel so I had to pull back a bit. It took a while but I happened to find a happy medium. My writing style - if you could call it that - needed work. Ultimately what I ended up with was something called, stream of consciousness. So, if you read Jack Kerouac's book, On The Road you'll understand what that is. Oddly enough Jack Kerouac and I visited some of the same cities.

The more confident I became with my writing ability the more enjoyed writing on a regular basis. I even went as far as to start to do some research on writing. Just recently I learned about literary devices. Learning how to improve the quality of my writing took some time as well. Which is probably why some chapters have gone through as many as seven rewrites. For the past few months my routine has been, wake up at 5am, head out for coffee, find some new heavy metal bands on Spotify, write for 3 hours, head to the beach, then write some more. There are days when I do some serious procrastinating though.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The book!

By now some of you have heard that I decided to write a book about my experience walking across America. Some people will probably roll their eyes and say, great another person who thinks they can write a book. So what! Before I get on a plane and head back home to Los Angeles, CA I should take this opportunity to talk about the book in greater detail. As I said before, this book is going to be about all my experiences walking across America. You already know I set out to do this so I could raise money for charity. What you don't know - in case you were following on Facebook or Twitter - is that I didn't talk about everything that happened while on the road and it's not that I was keeping things a secret, it's that there were plenty of folks out there who were concerned about my well being and some of the things that happened could have caused people to worry unnecessarily. It's nice to have people out there who care. Many thanks to the moms out there who treated me like I was one of their own - even though I'm probably not much younger or older. Anyway, the book. Why? I had no intentions of ever writing a book because a) I'm not an author and b) as I'm sure you can tell my writing skills suck. That's write I said suck. While I was traveling through the pan handle of Florida I met a WWII veteran who I shared my many of my stories with. Seems like a lot of war veterans like sharing stories. Then again, they've seen a lot. At one point during the conversation he had told me that he no longer followed the news on television, radio, newspaper or the internet because it seemed like the media seemed to focus their attention on things like human suffering, tragedy, disasters, scandals, etc. Shit, I contacted several news outlets in Portland, ME and not a single one of them seemed interested in my story. I just spent a year and a half of my life walking across America to raise money for children with cancer for crying out loud. Although, a gentleman who saw me walking through Ogunquit, ME approached me and asked if he could interview me for the newspaper he works for. Anyway, it was because of the veteran that I met in Florida that I decided to write a book about my experiences. He said that people needed to hear about all the good, decent, kind, giving folks I had met across the country because it's not often people hear about them and with everything that is going on in our world today people want to have their faith in humanity restored. So, I told him I would write a book.

Something else people may not be aware of is that I decided to write the book and give the proceeds to various non-profit organizations and schools. Along with that I want to donate a portion to an art school or some kind of scholarship fund in honor of a friend of mine who passed away while I was in Louisiana. This friend was very much looking forward to retirement because he wanted to spend all his time creating art. Shortly after he retired he became ill and unfortunately died. Art was a big part of his life and I know it meant a lot to him. The other thing I'm going to be doing is having a book cover design contest. Normally I like to do everything myself. When it comes to anything creative I can be a bit of a control freak, but that's just because often times I already know how I want something to look. The idea is to open this contest up to schools all over the country from kindergarten on up to the college level as well as the general public. Yet again another opportunity for fundraising. So, contestants will be able to submit their art after making a small donation to any of the charities I will be trying to raise money for. More than likely I will let the public choose the artists creation. More on that later.

What kinds of things will be in the book? Everything! This is not a book about walking across America to raise money for charity. Yes that will be a small part of it, but this book is about my experiences walking across the U.S. I will talk about the high points and the low. Trying to raise money for charity is no easy task. In fact it can be downright frustrating. You'll learn more about that later too. Many of the things I will write about will be my encounters with people throughout the country, details about the cities I walked through, unusual and exciting experiences, wild animal encounters, thoughts I had while walking, my favorite cities and states, the countless nights I spent sleeping outdoors, dealings with law enforcement, and many more things. My hope is that everybody who read the book will enjoy it and will hopefully be able to get something from it. In addition to that with the sales from the book I hope to be able to help many other non-profit organizations, big and small, as well as schools.

One last thing before I end this post, the names in the book will be changed. Nobody's real name will be used, so don't worry. I know people want their private lives to remain private. However some of the experiences we shared are unique and at times were downright amusing so I have to share a little. Now it's time to get ready to go back home and get started on this book. Once again, thank you very much to all the people who donated to my cause and helped me get across the continent safe and sound.

Sincerely,
Mario

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Past, present, and future.


It's been nearly five months since my last blog entry and a lot has happened. Lately I've been thinking about the past, present, and future. While crossing the continent I've met some great people, visited wonderful cities, and seen some incredible landscapes. A few places that come to mind are Fruita, CO, Natchez, MS, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, and Grayton Beach in Florida. What made all these place special though were the people. My friend Amy Dancer likes to refer to me as, "city boy", and honestly, I am. None of the places I mentioned resemble my hometown of Los Angeles at all. Oddly enough I feel at home in those places and as previously stated, it's because of the people. I do miss the day to day chaos of city living, but there's something to be said for a slower paced lifestyle. When a person can stop or slow down for a minute to take in their surroundings it's easier to appreciate what's there. My travels through the south have been some of the most interesting so far. Besides Natchez, MS another place that sticks in my mind is Greenville, MS. It was there that I met a stranger who invited me to stay at a church down the road from where he saw me. The church also happened to have a prison outreach program. The place is called Grace Tabernacle Christian Church and there I met some incredible people. I ended up spending a week with men who had fallen on hard times and served time in prison. I spent quite a bit of time talking with one man who had been a fugitive on the run during the 70s. He had a story to tell. His capture resulted in a shootout that cost him the use of his legs. Despite being former convicts none of the men I met at GTCC seemed violent, hostile, or threatening. I think they appreciated the fact that a human being saw them not as someone who spent time in the prison system and judged them, but as person. Some of the men in the program have a steady job but most rely on public assistance. Perhaps what struck me as special about these men is that although they were down on their luck and had little or nothing they still found it in their hearts to support me in my cause. This would also be the first time anyone had joined me on my walk. The day I left,  Pastor Darnell Williams and the men of GTCC walked me to the city limits. Those are just some of the kind of people I would meet on the road.

Now that I'm getting down to the last couple thousand miles of my walk I'm trying to think of ways to increase awareness about what I'm doing and to try and get more donations for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital. Things like social media are great tools for raising awareness, however those tools only work when they are used correctly. Ultimately it comes down to people believing in the cause. I could have gone to big businesses and corporations to ask for donations, but I wanted to take grassroots approach to fundraising. There are people who believe that humanity doesn't exist anymore, however, my travels and my encounters with people have proved otherwise. I've told people time and time again that there are 311,000,000 people in the United States alone and if I could just 1,000,000 people to give a dollar I will have met or exceeded my goal of raising $1,000,000 for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital. Sounds easy enough right. That's less than one percent of the American population. Thus far donations are few and far between. It's easy to understand that people have a difficult time parting with their hard earned money, especially when they aren't getting anything tangible in return. Then I see things like people raising $2,000,000 on Kickstarter to get a Veronica Mars movie made or donating $1,000,000 to actor Zach Braff's crowdfunding campaign to get the sequel to his Garden State movie made. So, it's a challenge doing fundraising for a cause like mine and although the results are mildly disappointing I'm no where near ready to give up. If nothing else walking across America to raise money for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital has shown me what I can endure physically, psychologically, and what I'm prepared to sacrifice. A question I get asked a lot is, why St.Jude Children's Research Hospital? I've known about St.Jude for a long time now and when I started looking at children's hospitals and organizations to volunteer at I discovered that there weren't any volunteer opportunities where I lived so I chose to volunteer at Starlight Children's Foundation because I could get involved with the children and their families. Over time there would be children I wouldn't see anymore because their health deteriorated or their illness got the better of them. As with most things I tend to say to myself, can I do more. So, I started fundraising in addition to volunteering and it still didn't feel like it was enough. In the winter of 2011 I started trying to come up with good ideas for a fundraiser. The idea to walk across America and raise money popped into my head and for the next few months I talked about it with friends who thought I was crazy. I couldn't set out on my mission until May 2012 because I had some film scoring projects that wouldn't be done until April. At that point I looked at what I had going on, saw the opportunity, spent a few minutes thinking about it, and ultimately decided to take off. Which I guess still brings up the question of why. Seeing young people miss the opportunity to grow up and fulfill their dreams because of a catastrophic illness is heartbreaking and if something can be done to prevent it I want to do all I can.

As far as my future plans are concerned, well… I'm not one to make plans, but it's something I have to seriously consider if I don't want to be homeless on the east coast. I am giving serious thought to making LA and not L.A. my new home. During college I had planned on moving to New Orleans, LA because I wanted to work for Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails. Well, a woman derailed that plan. I'm terrible about following my own advice. It wasn't a decision I regret. It paid off in the long run. There are a few things that make me to want to return to the south. Of the course the people are great, but there are other things too. Having been on the road for so long I haven't been able to visit the beach. Once I reached southern Mississippi and saw the Gulf Of Mexico the wheels starting turning and thought to myself, I could make this home. I'm the kind of person that enjoys trying new things and I started to see the possibilities. With being in New Orleans I'm closer to the St.Jude hospital and I want to be able to volunteer there a few times a year. In addition to that I'll spend time volunteering with children and other causes that are important to me. Something I look forward to is Relay For Life. I also want to raise money for organizations that provide diabetic alert dogs to children and their families. I also think it would be great to start a foundation for underprivileged children who want to get involved with music. I've also have a great group of friends now in the south. I see an opportunity to create a great new life for myself. I don't think it will be one that's much different from my Los Angeles, CA life, but I welcome any change as long as it's good or at least has a life lesson attached to it. If nothing else I can always return to Los Angeles or go on another epic adventure. One can never knows with me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Visiting St.Jude Chilren's Research Hospital

As many of you already know for the last seven months I've been walking across the United States to raise money for St.Jude Children's Research Hospital. This holiday I had the opportunity to take a tour of St.Jude and it was a truly amazing experience. What do they goes beyond treating catastrophic pediatric illnesses. A great of effort has gone into making sure that the children receiving medical care at St.Jude don't feel like they're in a typical hospital environment, which even as adults we know can be a little scary. Everything from the floors to the ceilings is designed to create a pleasant atmosphere for the children. The halls throughout have different themes. Just like my walk, I passed through spring, summer, fall, and winter. The floors were tiled to look like various things like parks or winter wonderlands, and in some places the ceilings had clouds. I felt like a big kid while I was on the tour. Our tour-guide Eva was very knowledgable and I learned a lot.

I discovered that the hospital has school so children can continue getting their education while undergoing treatment. It's not part of the regular tour, however the tour guide offered to show it to me so naturally I said yes. I got meet the principal and she explained to me how the school at St.Jude works. They really have thought of everything there. In fact they even have prom.

Visiting St.Jude, talking with staff, and seeing some of the children undergoing treatment moved me in such a way that I can't even begin to describe.

Meet Grace

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making my way across.

Where to begin. Since my last entry I've had the opportunity to meet some great people and see wonderful places. At the moment I'm traveling through Arkansas on my way towards the St.Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN and it's been amazing. The scenery between Oklahoma and where I am is incredible. The leaves are starting to turn varying shades of yellow, red, and orange all over. I visited some cities that had some interesting to them. I got to see a good amount of Fort Smith, AR thanks to my CouchSurfing host there, in Muskogee, OK I visited the the Oklahoma Music Hall Of Fame and got a bit of an education, I went to a convenience store in New Blaine, AR that was once a school and learned that Johnny Cash once performed there, and then I spent Thanksgiving at Petit Jean State Park. In between visiting all these places I met some of the kindest people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. That's one of the things I will remember most about Oklahoma and Arkansas. Along the way I also met a former St.Jude patient who is now an adult and some guys who are riding their bike across America to raise awareness for at risk youth. Now that I'm nearing the St.Jude hospital in Memphis, TN I'm getting a little nervous, for the most part what I feel is excitement. I've been working hard on trying to get more donations before my arrival as well as some additional press. For anybody who has never been to Oklahoma or Arkansas I recommend visiting these two states and if you can stop by Petit Jean State Park because the landscape is incredible.