Category Archives: Beacon Reader

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The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:

tidepools1

It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.

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On honor culture in Japan


I arrived in Kyoto today around 7pm. I should have gotten here earlier but I went the wrong way in the Osaka Loop train, which didn’t really matter, I just had to wait for the longer side of the loop. When I finally got to Osaka Station, I switched to the Kyoto line, tossed my bag on the subway rack and just zoned out into my headphones.

A nice thing about Japan is that people don’t steal things from other people here, at least overtly and rampantly like they do elsewhere. I learned from my friend who’s an English teacher in Osaka that kids get moral training in elementary school, where they are given different scenarios and have to pick the more ethical choice. It permeates the culture.

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The Gift of Squid

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.

Overview: Whenever I meet people for the first time in a new place, they assume I’m “on holiday.” Sometimes I have a hard time explaining that I’m not on holiday—that I live life on the road, and to do that I have to always be working. I’ve gotten a variety of reactions to this disclosure, but none quite like this…

Last night I was writing on my laptop, sitting cross legged on the floor of one of the wooden bungalows atop top of a cliff on an island somewhere in Thailand. I’ve been writing a novel and was deep in thought, when all of a sudden a little boy walked over and set a plate of squid on my table. I tried to tell him I didn’t order it, but he just smiled and ran away.

I looked around, confused. To my right I saw a table of heads looking at me from a across the deck. A shadowy hand waved. Then a woman got up and came over to me, I assumed to reclaim her misappropriated order, but then she explained it was for me.

“He want to give to you,” she happily articulated with carefully calculated English.

“He ask his mother: ‘why she so quiet?’ And his mother say: ‘because she working.’ And he said ‘ohh.’”

She made a forlorn face to signal the little boy’s contemplation about the matter.

“Then he say: ‘Can I take squid for her?’ and his mother said ‘yeaaaas, go.’ So he came to give squid to you.”

My jaded little heart just about exploded. I laughed and awww’d and thanked her. She motioned to the boy to come back over, and he came shyly with his father who said something to him in Thai. The little boy stuck out his right hand and looked at me, hopefully. I shook it heartily and said “kap kom khap,” thanking him in my best attempt at Thai.

He looked elated and bowed deeply, thanking me (for accepting the squid?) with his hands pressed together. He turned to run away again, overwhelmed, but his father spun him back around and readied his tablet cam. I posed for the picture, draping one arm around the little boy’s shoulders and making a peace sign with my other hand. (In Asia, there is no shame associated with the peace sign, unlike in US where it has become a sort of pasé hippies-only gesture.)

The three thanked me and went back to their sunset dinner, leaving me to my work.

I’ve never even really liked squid, but I ate that whole damn plate, except for the heads, which I discretely gave to the resident kitten who has taken a ferocious liking to me as well.

When I was done writing for the night, I went over to the family dinner table where the owner of this glorious place was also seated, and they all beamed at me. I thanked them again and asked the women to translate for the little boy that he made my happy night working even more happy. He smiled and hid in his father’s sleeve. I bowed to the table with my hands pressed together and told them all goodnight.

What a perfect gesture of childlike innocence and compassion, to attempt to improve my, what to him must appear to be a very odd and solitary way of life, with the gift of squid.

Of course I am quite happy here in my literary paradise, where I can explore nature and focus on my art undisturbed, and at the same time remain connected to the ones I love around the world via a pretty solid internet connection. How heartbreakingly funny that being quiet and working, the very things I have traveled so far to do, seem like the pits to a 10-year-old Thai boy used to seeing tourists in a temporary state of elation and excitement-seeking.

I considered that he may have had a point. I was already wearing my little black dress, so I put my computer away and walked down the hill with my Thai bartender friend to the beach bar where a band that covers Bob Marley and various other songs with beachy vibes plays every weekend, and watched the crazy French tourists dance until they were covered in sweat and falling over. It was arguably a better use of a Saturday night in paradise than sitting by myself and writing. Maybe if it weren’t for that plate of squid, I would have just gone to bed.

Thank you, little boy. I will never forget you.

Follow the Parrots

This post was also published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Everywhere I go, I always seem to find the parrots. Here’s an account of my latest run-in with a flock of rose-ringed parrots in The Hague. If it wasn’t already, it’s now my goal to find them everywhere I travel.

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Watercolor: Arikia Millikan

I can’t explain why, but I’ve felt a connection with birds (all birds, but parrots specifically and much moreso than birds of prey) my whole life. Nothing really makes me happier than parrots. Some of my friends call me “the parrot whisperer,” and I somehow always manage to find the wild parrots in the most unexpected urban areas. So far I’ve tracked and observed flocks in Brooklyn (NY), Austin (TX), Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, and more.

A few days ago a friend and I were walking around The Hague, a city in the Netherlands perhaps most known as home to some of the foremost international peacekeeping organizations int he world. After leaving an artist co-op, when we happened across a park neither of us had before been. The entrance caught my eye the previous week when it was pouring down rain, but I was too wet to explore. That day the skies were gray but the weather was calm, so we wandered in and found ourselves amidst a Dutch wonderland—a juxtaposition of carefully spaced trees and rugged overgrowth, bell-shaped flowers and purplish leaves smearing color across the green backdrop. Cubed metal sculptures doubled as a play gym for kids, imposing modernity upon the aged backdrop of regal brick buildings bordering the park.

We walked along the path and through the grass, admiring nature, when I started to tell my friend about the wild parrots of Paris. Seconds after the words left my mouth, a flock of green parrots flew directly over us, chattering distinctly, and landed in a tree next to the path ahead. I stopped in my tracks and pointed up.

“OMG they’re here too!” Their squawks were unmistakable.

“No. Really?”

“Yes, look!” We watched them swing around the branches and fly onward. Looking up to the trees, we noticed new flocks joining, dozens of little green rose-ringed parrots.

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Photo: Arikia Millikan, iPhone6.

Though I hadn’t consciously heard their calls before spotting them, maybe part of my brain is always listening for them, a remnant of growing up with a little flock of my own.

A smile spread over my face as my eyes darted around the sky, observing these carefree creatures in their pre-dusk clamor to regroup the flock and discuss an impending rain cloud over a rare assortment of tree nuts. They swung upside down from tree branches, chasing each other flirtatiously, finally landing in groups of two. I was momentarily jealous of the simplicity of their courtship rituals: pick your most genetically compatible bae and snuggle up on a branch for eternity? If only it was that easy.

My friend and I perched on the stone steps leading down to a pond patrolled by a fanciful duck, the parrots flying overhead in coordinated formations like miniature fighter pilots. It was as if nature was giving us a private show in our own secret amphitheater. We watched them until we felt rain drops and then moved on, passing cotton-tailed bunnies on the way out.

I’m beginning to notice a pattern of parrots picking the lushest and most serene environments to gather within urban landscapes—something noticeably lacking from my life, spent mostly online and within the confines of human architectural creations. I think I’ll make it my goal to find the parrots in every city I visit.

I will leave you with this video, shared with me by three people independently of each other this morning (thanks Dave, Evan, and Pilar!), featuring a member of the Saskatoon Parrot Rescue and his friend Pebble making a statement about confining captive parrots in circular cages. It may seem a bit extreme, but it is well-documented that parrots, if contained, prefer rectangular or other polyhedron-shaped cages so they have corners to retreat into. A circular cage can actually be quite damaging to a parrot’s mental health, as they leave the birds feeling exposed and deny them agency over their interactivity with the surrounding environment.

Originally published on The Millikan Daily.

 

Three Flights

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: The jet set life is gonna kill you, they said. And it does. But not as much as it prompts me to live. I am not the person I once was, but I am still me, still moving like my brain is the bus from Speed and it can’t go less than 50 mph or it will explode.

 

My trip from a small town in Southern Washington to Germany took 48 hours. I left after Christmas dinner and finally arrived at the CCC conference in Hamburg two full days later. This time felt different from the other times I’ve left “home” to travel abroad. The earth is shrinking. Whereas a journey across the Atlantic was once daunting and suspenseful, this one from NYC to Frankfurt felt routine, like my old subway commute to the Wired office. I wasn’t giddy or afraid, just ready. Maybe it was because I’d already been traveling for 20 hours at that point, from Portland to Seattle, through a 12 hour layover in NYC during which I trudged all the way to my apartment and back just to nap. Maybe because I promptly popped a valium immediately upon ascent, and The Wizard of Oz was playing on the in-flight entertainment. Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m finally beginning to fully integrate into this life in orbit, complete with all its chaos.

The path from Germany to England was turbulent, emotionally. I was flying with the kind of heartbreak that inflames every previous wound at once, because when love left it took with it the hope that it could heal all the rest. Additionally, I was hungover and burnt out from 10 virtually sleepless nights of high-bandwidth conversations with some of the smartest computer security experts and tech activists on the planet, dancing and celebrating life the German way, connecting so very deeply. Then I missed my flight. By five minutes. I’ve never before experienced a slow train in Berlin, but I guess the Germans were all still reeling from their New Year’s activities—which resembled an apocalyptic civil war more than a celebration—because I think I’d have been better off walking to Schipol. Halfway through the train ride, hope had long left my body, but I still ran the entire way to the terminal, rolling all 19.1 kilos of my portable house with me.

When the attendant told me I couldn’t board, my posture dipped in defeat so violently that my shoulder bag fell to the floor. I stepped to the side and excused myself so I didn’t melt into the dirty tile with it, put myself on the next flight three hours later, paid a rebooking fee that cost more than the original ticket, and scrambled to communicate with my host in London over shoddy WiFi. When I rolled past the attendant once more, I gave her an apologetic smile, mumbling something about a breakup so she didn’t worry I might be too crazy to fly. I’m sure she’s used to this kind of thing. What an unenviable job. The whole way there I lamented the aspects of my lifestyle that made this situation unavoidable. By the time I landed I came to terms with them, supposing that some of those same wild bits are the ones that led me there, to him and the whole whirlwind, and to such a recklessly genuine exploration in human connectivity in the first place.


Photographed with permission at the Howard Griffin Gallery, London.

I left London feeling I had accomplished all I set out to do in a short week there, including reevaluating my life. London is beginning to have that effect on me, with all its rule-followers and closed circuit cameras despite an underlair bubbling with dissent. There was a day when I wondered if I had reached my quota of traveling—if I should throw in the towel and go find a little cabin in the woods to go soak my aching bones and start building something resembling “stability.” Does living this way reach a point of diminishing returns? I was greeted with snuggles and tea from someone very special to me who lives with one foot in each world. She reminded me that we are something of a different breed—we, the ones who have dubbed ourselves travelers, journalists, who have chosen to reject modern stability in order to bear witness to the events of the world. Maybe the most we can hope for in love is getting to collide momentarily with the ones who inflame our greatest desires as well as fears, occasionally getting to roll along together for a brief moment in time. How could that kind of all-consuming love keep up when one is moving so fast? I conspired with my confidante and we held each other close in our arms, hearts and minds, knowing we oscillate on the same wavelength.


Brick Lane street art

One day, after prowling around Brick Lane with one of my most liberated and perceptive artist friends, overdosing on chocolate in the shop where he was resident artist and overindulging in esoteric musings about the artistic condition, I began to wonder if I was somehow cheating at life. Some experiences I encounter living the way that I do—lately they feel like they’re more than people are supposed to experience across an entire lifetime, but crammed into a week. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote of the edge:

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”

As the farmlands of Surrey blurred by in the train window on the way to Gatwick airport, I wondered if at some point I did step over the edge, making life exponential in all its tragedies and ecstasies. Can one come back from going over the edge? Maybe I don’t know it at all, and this is just aging. Sometimes I wonder if I was supposed to die a long time ago, and if this state of hyper-intense living is some kind of weird artifact, like a bonus level in a video game. Or maybe my senses have just been so pummeled by the world that I am doomed to feel disproportionately.

Leaving London, I supposed I would allow myself to be life’s punching bag as long as it keeps serving me pellets of bliss occasionally. That was what being with him in Germany was, and it was worth all the subsequent discomfort of withdrawal from all the top-shelf chemicals his presence released in me.

Above the clouds, I reminisced on meeting David Hoffman, a visionary photographer who captured iconic images during protests in the 70s and of social movements all over the world. You might imagine people who carry memories of the most violent outbursts of human injustice around with them to be scary and stoic, broken and curdled by the things they’ve seen and learned, but it’s often quite the opposite. He radiated cheer and curiosity; out of every pore spilled a “fuck it” to life attitude, reminding me that sometimes the only smart option to take when working within the confines of a corrupt system is to cheat by not playing their game. Why not follow one’s artistic drive and play for the easter eggs, snatching every morsel of meaning in life? I asked him how he trained in his youth so he wouldn’t be harmed in the process of creation. “Oh, I’ve had my teeth knocked out, scars…” He chuckled. “Photography is a contact sport, the way I do it. I just got lucky.”

I comfortably boarded my British Airlines flight to Amsterdam, which was calm like the Tube usually is due to a mixture of British politeness and awkwardness. I spent the last half hour of the flight trying desperately to contain my delight while reading the opening of Cat’s Cradle. How comforting to know a writer like Kurt Vonnegut once existed with all his observational powers and methods of transforming facts into evergreen lessons for humanity! Tears of laughter forced their way through my eyes and I sat, discretely gasping for air, struggling to maintain my composure under the sideways scrutiny of curious British eyes. What could possibly be funny while crammed into a metal box hurling through the sky? Everything. Everything! All the emotions densely packed into 2016 so far burst in effervescent bubbles of laughter, and I’m sure the other passengers thought I was already high. But I waited until I was safely and legally in a coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam for that.

Until next time,

Arikia

The Ghost in the Bunker

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: I am a woman of science, but I’ve seen some things I can’t use science to explain. The events I’m about to describe and the resulting photograph is one of those things. I can’t tell you what I believe, or what you should believe, but I can tell you a really scary story.

It’s Halloween, but for the first time since I can remember, I’m not celebrating my favorite holiday. In light of a series of recent events that have been scary enough on their own accord, I’m forfeiting my usual extreme festivities in favor of some much-needed family time and life-sorting. So I guess I’m being an adult this year, possibly the scariest costume I’ve ever donned.

To compensate, I’ve decided to unearth one of my personal scary stories—one I’ve only disclosed a handful of times since it happened, across beach campfires and dimly lit dinner party tables; one I’d rather not admit unnerves me, being a woman of science and all. But, as a good friend once said, it’s good to be a little bit Mulder and a little bit Scully. I’ll preface this by stating that everything I’m about to tell you and show you is true, but it’s up to you to interpret that information. If you’re the supernaturally skittish type, probably don’t read on.

It was a muggy afternoon in St. Petersberg, Florida—a setting that, to me, makes “a dark and stormy night” seem quite serene by comparison. After spending seven years of hellish adolescence in the swamplands of Florida, one would normally have to drag me by the hair to get me to go back. But it was December in New York, and Art Basel (the gaudy American version of the Swiss art exhibition) was going on in Miami, setting the stage for a reunion with the only two people who could entice me to return to Florida on my own free will.

I met Tyler* years before at a tech mixer at the Tribeca Grand. In a sea of predictable networkers, we stealth weirdos were drawn together like magnets. I was instantly endeared by his closeted desire to ditch his white-collar advertising job to perform for subway riders as a cross-dressing clown. On the way home, we discovered we were neighbors. The following week, after a day’s worth of rooftop beers and spliffs, we wandered into a video shoot where Noel* was methodically capturing the effect of a handful of glitter being slapped on an underwear-clad model’s ass in front of a green screen. We all wound up back at Tyler’s until the wee hours of the night and had crazy city adventures for months thereafter until Tyler fled to Florida to escape the more damaging chemical temptations of the big city, and Noel left to go document some cult leader in Sticksville USA.

After a few days of galavanting about Art Basel, deeply contemplating the purchase of $70,000 finger paintings and convincing bouncers we were on the list at clubs named after sea creatures, our eccentric trio high-tailed it through the Everglades in Tyler’s Jeep. We stopped only at Parrot Jungle Island (upon my insistence, of course) and a Cracker Barrel, until we made it to Tyler’s grandparents’ empty condo in St. Pete.

There we spent the following week working on our various digital projects by day, sampling the finest crab shacks, dog tracks, and strip clubs the greater Tampa Bay area had to offer by night. Nearing the week’s end, restless from the day’s work but a little burnt out from our indulgences, Tyler suggested we have a low-key evening and take a scenic drive to one of St. Pete’s historic landmarks, Fort DeSoto, located on aptly-named Mullet Key.


Image via Islandparadise.com

We rolled into the parking lot of the fortress, which was totally empty. Great, we declared, all to ourselves, and we hopped out of the Wrangler and shared a spliff as we walked the path into the state park. The sun was just beginning to set, and we were happily chatting as we walked, admiring the abandoned fortress and the big cannons left behind from when the fortress was used to defend Tampa Bay against the Spanish during the Spanish-American War in 1898.


Photo via urbanledgendsofflorida.com

Noel had his camera with him, as he always does (though the above pics aren’t from him), and he was casually shooting around. I posed sexually with a cannon, and we were joking around and being crazy as usual. Whatever.

On the left of us was an enclosed fortress structure that looked like a bunker or something. But unlike any bunker I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a fair share of bunkers in my days, there was a doorway, completely unobstructed to the pitch-black inside.

We looked at each other and the essences of all our personalities crystallized in that moment. Noel, face full of maniacal delight ran straight into the building. Tyler, chin set as if to say “fuck that,” turned around and walked the other direction. I opened the flashlight app on my phone.

“AAaarriiikkiiiaaaa,” Noel wailed from inside the darkness. “Come in, Ariiiikiiiiaaa!”

I looked at Tyler. “Come on, let’s see what’s inside,” I offered. “It wouldn’t be wide open if they minded if we went in.”

“Nope, not a chance,” he said smiling contently. This was, after all, a guy who wouldn’t even watch the most benign of horror movies with me because, once upon a time, his dad invaded one of his slumber parties with a Jason mask and a leaf blower.

I rolled my eyes and walked inside, using the light to guide me since after about five feet in, it was pitch black. I scanned the room, looking first for Noel, who was nearby laughing and making ghostly sounds, then for other people… squatters, homeless people who might be having a nap and wouldn’t want to be disturbed. As far as I could see, we were alone in there. Noel continued to wail.

“Shut up, there could be people like, living in here or something,” I said.

“H-h-hullo?” he called out in mock fear. “Is anyone, th-th-there?”

My cellphone flashlight was on full blast, and we could see all the way down the length of the concrete room, about 50 meters. It was cold in there, and it smelled old. Noel forged ahead, illuminated by my flashlight and using the light from his camera, taking still pictures and playing with the flash settings to turn it into a strobe light. We could soon see there was an opening off to the left. We turned when we got to the end, and were faced with a parallel room separated by a thin wall, kind of like the landscape in the original DOOM computer game. But the second room wasn’t as long—about 10 meters down was a concrete wall with a square meter cut out of the middle. We couldn’t see what was on the other side.

“Whoaa…” Noel cooed, aesthetically pleased in every way. I told him it was weird. He ran up to the square, examining it, photographing it, until he was right up on top of it.

“OH MY GOD!” he exclaimed, “THIS IS BLOOD.”

“Oh my god, stop trying to scare me.” I was not amused. I went over to examine this “blood,” and while there was a dark substance around the bottom of the square, it wasn’t like, red and oozing.

“That’s not blood.”

“Yeah, this is definitely blood!”

“No way, that’s like, old dirt or something.”

But Noel, doing the thing he always does that I endearingly refer to as “fantasy lying” continued to take this new and interesting plot line to the extreme. “What if people like, got murdered in here. What if this is the murder bunker?”

I continued to brush his antics off with all the level-headedness of Scully, but when I stared into the blackness of the square, it gave me the same uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what lies beneath as floating in the middle of the ocean does, like when you drop the water skiing handle and you’re waiting for the boat to come back around and pick you up. Yep, time to go.

“OK so, let’s not just stand around in the fucking murder bunker then,” I reasoned. “Tyler’s waiting for us.” I turned around and took the light of the flashlight with me. Noel finally conceded, and shot some more pictures on the way out.

Halfway down the main hallway, a fear gripped me and told me to run. It was irrational though, so the science-minded part of my brain kept me walking normally, as I contemplated the neuroscience of perceived apparitions, if you will—all the psychological forces that convince people they are perceiving, in positive or negative ways, the undead, supernatural beings, forces from beyond—whatever—when they are really just experiencing some kind of… neurological tick, a paranoid belief so strong the feared object actually manifests inside the person’s brain.

Outside, the sun had set and Tyler was smoking a cigarette. “You guys are crazy.”

Noel shared his fantastical stories on the way back to the car, and we laughed and I shook the stupid fear that made me feel like the little girl who was, once upon a time, scared to step off of my bed in the dark because something might grab my ankle. As we drove away from DeSoto, down the narrow, water-lined road, the beauty of the scenery melted away our shenanigans.

From the passenger’s seat, I asked to see Noel’s camera to look for that picture of me riding the cannon. Scrolling through the ones from inside the bunker, one made my blood run cold.

“Who’s that?” I asked, passing the camera back to him in the backseat.

He studied it for a moment. “That’s you.”

I held my hand out to see the camera again and looked at what was supposedly me.

“No. It’s not.”

Noel looked at me conspiratorially. “It has to be you, it’s just like, the shadow of the camera or something.”

“That’s not me. Look at what I’m wearing. How could any shadow do that to my clothes?” I was wearing a striped shirt and shorts, and the figure in the picture, well…

See for yourself:


Photo by Noel* whose name has been changed. Raw photo, totally unedited.

Tyler took one look and thrust the camera back away from him. I grabbed it and scanned the other pictures for clues of what light refraction or shadow could have produced that effect, but well, frankly I’m stumped.

We didn’t talk about it the entire rest of the night. Once back at the condo, we watched Savages to try to chase the weirdness away with sexy threesomes and REAL world concerns, like drug mafias. I tried to fall asleep with Tyler, but 4am rolled around and my brain was doing its typical insomniac question-asking, so I rolled over and woke up my phone. Squinting in the light, I typed “DeSoto Fortress” into Google.

On that particular day, searching from that particular location, four of the results on the first page were from ghost hunter websites. Icicle blood.

According to the Anna Maria Islander, on May 9 of 1980, a fog descended over Tampa Bay near Mullet Key. Pilots of the Summit Venture freighter ship bound for the Port of Tampa lost visibility and, just as the ship was about to pass through the 800-foot opening in the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a squall hit, sending the ship crashing into the bridge.

Thirty-five people died, and they used the DeSoto Fortress as a makeshift morgue to store the bodies.


Photo via the Anna Maria Islander.

Photo via the Anna Maria Islander.

From The Islander:

Car after car after truck after bus drove off the edge of the bridge until one car, creeping through the storm, screeched to a halt only 14 inches from the yawning gap.

Of the eight passenger vehicles and one Greyhound bus that went over the edge, only one person survived the plunge and was pulled to safety aboard the Summit Venture.

Recovery of the 35 bodies claimed by the ship’s crash took almost a week. The twisted debris required explosives to break, and cranes were needed to lift the vehicles to the surface. The force of the crash ripped open the top of the bus along its length.

Divers recovered many bodies that day and transported them to Mullet Key’s Fort Desoto Park. Others washed ashore days later.

So, we had indeed, just taken a casual stroll through a room where dozens of people—people who had their lives cut abruptly short in an incredibly tragic accident—had been stored immediately following their deaths.

Was this one of those people?


The pic Noel took, cropped around the area of interest.

I can’t say. Being the objective observer and science-minded individual I always strive to be, I’ve shown the picture to several people without any context and asked them what they saw. Some people said they didn’t see anything of note. Some don’t even see it when I point it out to them; it’s “a stretch.” Other people see a human figure immediately.

Regardless of what we experienced in DeSoto Fortress that day, and what is or is not contained in this image, what happened on that day in 1980 is a tragedy, and I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been for all the people who were involved, and who lost loved ones. I hope they’ve all found peace.

So, that’s the story. Is it scientific? No. Did we blaze with a ghost? I don’t know. Do I believe Noel caught a ghost on camera or that I was contacted by beings beyond the realm of the living? No, I don’t believe that. But, I would not exclude it from the realm of possibility.

Happy Halloween! And now please enjoy the most marvelous X-Files mashup ever made of Scully reminding us about the most important thing of all to chase the creepiness:

[Youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yscLj2FySdo]

Robbed Blind

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Something like this could happen to anyone, anywhere in the world. But it happened to me, here in Belgrade, yesterday. I never thought about the origin of the expression “robbed blind” before experiencing it quite literally.

Last night at 2am, after a long day at the Share Foundation’s conference about digital freedom where I moderated a panel on EU copyright reform and got to meet so many smart people, I came back to my apartment to find it had been burglarized. I’ve never had my home space violated in that way before, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned on the light and saw the window gaping ominously open above the fallen curtain rod and boot prints on the couch cover.

My mind instantly auto-generated a checklist of items in order of importance as I scanned the room. I saw two of my journals peeking out from underneath the curtain and breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Aside from the obvious, it meant that the burglars probably didn’t know or care who I was—that it was just about money, and not some kind of scare tactic or assault on my freedom of speech. I didn’t even need to look at the spot where I’d left the professional camera Olympus gave me to know it was gone.


RIP little camera. Just when I was really getting to like you, someone stole you away.Arikia Millikan/Olympus Pen EP5

I flipped the light on in my bedroom and my jaw, and heart, dropped. The room was turned upside down. My clothes and papers were strewn about, cushions ripped off the tops of the storage couches to explore inside and tossed haphazardly aside. Fortunately my leather-bound journal remained on the ledge above my bed. After once having a journal stolen from inside my motorcycle seat while I was at a restaurant in Formentera, I took proper security precautions with the most recent version.


Just a little bit of Hocus Pocus to ward off superstitious criminals.

I realized how fortunate I was to have been exactly where I was that Saturday, because obviously I’d never go to a tech conference without all portals to the internet (my laptop and two smartphones) affixed to my person. If I wasn’t such a nerd, I’d really be up a creek right now.

I then thanked my lucky stars for the good tidings of Linda Marion, my friend Amira’s mother. The day before I left the US for my first lap around the world, she came over to my apartment in Ann Arbor despite my protests that I was frantically packing and running late, and dropped off a few important items she thought I might need—among them, a passport case and a safety pin. “Never let your passport leave your body,” she lectured maternally. Ever since that day, I’ve kept that case pinned to the inside of my travel bag, and have carried it with me every single time I’ve left my residence.

So, despite the present suck-fest, it’s not Embassy time quite yet.

I’ve gotta admit, it’s times like this when I wish I was a normal person with normal parents or a long-term partner I could call and seek comfort in. Someone who would tell me everything was fine and not to worry, and tell me what to do before asking “hasn’t this travel obsession gone far enough?” and wouldn’t I just come home already? But I’m not a normal person, and I’ve never had anyone like that in my life, so I did what I’ve always done and just handled my shit myself.

Both of my phones were dead and, not wanting to rummage for my chargers, I left the apartment exactly as it was and walked to the hostel down the street. There I asked the night clerk if she could call the police for me. After relaying what I’d told her to the operator in Serbian, she muffled the phone and asked what nationality I am. “American,” I grudgingly said. After she relayed the translation, whoever was on the other end promptly hung up so fast it made the clerk raise her eyebrows in surprise.

One thing about Belgrade that I wouldn’t have ever understood before coming here, is that they have a better reason than most to dislike Americans. I was only 13 when the US-led NATO forces bombed Serbia, and nobody ever explained why in any history class I ever took. But I vaguely remember the Clinton administration talking about “human rights violations in Kosovo,” “Yugoslavia,” then “former Yugoslavia” on the major news channels, and I remember adults getting tense and arguing whenever the topic came up at dinner parties. Slobodan Milošević is a name that’s stuck in my head all these years, but absent any context. Like so many Americans, I didn’t have any idea what happened here—until the past few months I’ve spent exploring “the Balkans” AKA “former Yugoslavia.” Now I find it rather criminal that this wasn’t a part of our basic historical education. I’ll write more about it later.

The cops came quickly, spoke with me as little as possible, and told me to be back at 6:30am so a forensics team could take fingerprints. I thanked them profusely, and went back to the hostel to charge my phone, call the landlord, who was on Holiday in Greece, and nap for two hours. It seems they never actually relayed the message to the forensics team, so after waiting outside for an hour, I had to get the nosy old neighbor lady, who seemed to be having the thrill of her life from this scandal, to call them again. Finally they came, dusted for prints, and told me to go through my stuff so they could take an inventory of what was missing. When I dug my suitcase out and opened it, I couldn’t believe it.

They literally robbed me blind. I never really thought about the origin of this expression before, but they took everything—including my glasses, my backup glasses, and two months worth of contact lenses. Additionally, my hard drive was gone, all my chargers and random electronics stuff, my flute, all the sentimental stuff I’d been collecting along the way like my post card collection and the sand from various lakes I’d been saving for my friend who collects it. Even my toiletries and makeup were stolen. I’ll probably be realizing things are missing for months. Now my previous Beacon entry seems less funny.

I’m staying with a friend now, still in a daze and unsure of how to proceed. I’ve been hassled on the streets quite a bit in my days, but it’s a whole other level of odd feelings knowing someone has targeted you for a premeditated crime. You wonder who would do such a thing, and why. My prime suspect was the Tinder guy I hung out and blazed with but simply replied “what!” to his facebook message suggesting we have sex. More sinister is the thought that someone wanted my hard drive, and stealing all the other stuff was just a distraction. After all, what kind of criminal breaks in and steals someone’s fucking tampons but leaves the TV?

I’m going to try to not think about it. It brings me some comfort knowing I did everything right with respect to keeping myself and my few possessions safe, and this happened in spite of it. Instead, I need to focus on what to do next. I was going to head to Russia and write my book proposal while riding the Trans-Siberian railway, but I think right now, what I really need is to be near friends, family and the familiar. After having just lost about $2k of gear on top of already being in a tight financial situation, that’s going to be difficult.

If anyone has any suggestions (outside the Schengen zone, since I can’t return there until December), or just plain moral support, I’d love it if you’d drop me a note to justarikia@gmail.com. And if you want to do something more to help, I’d really appreciate donations to my Vision Restoration fund—somehow I need to come up with a fast $1000 replace the 3 kinds of lenses that were stolen (glasses, contacts, camera) in order to continue being your eyes abroad. Donations can be sent via PayPal to justarikia@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading and continuing to support me on this journey <3