Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another Planet

Monday December 30th, 2013 – Tucson, AZ

   Life is just full of pleasant surprises these days, and I’m not complaining. Today I had another one come out of nowhere, and again it absolutely blew me away. Whatever cosmic slot machine I have been playing of late is paying off handsomely, and the jackpot is the biggest I’ve ever hit.

   Today I had the privilege of reconnecting with some people I have to admit were never friends. I hadn’t had any issues with them, but frankly we just were not close. We were acquaintances on the comedy trail twenty years ago, and through the magic of Facebook have gotten back in touch.

   C.J. Vincent was a comedian based out of the Chicago area, and worked some of the same gigs I did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We crossed paths on several occasions, and like with a lot of comedians we interacted on a professional level. Like me, C.J. had a tendency to be a polarizer.

   That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a problem in the entertainment business. Word gets out one way or another, and it can be extremely difficult to shake a reputation once it settles. I had heard about C.J. before we ever crossed paths, but we never had a problem. I liked the guy.

   One of the reasons he took some heat was because he had a business manager when nobody in the Chicago area was using one. Nobody says it can’t be done, and I never had a problem with it. His manager’s name was Mary Ellen Landen, and they successfully teamed up for several years.

   Then, as happens often in standup comedy, for whatever reason they decided to move on. That has been the case of countless people I’ve worked with through the years, and there are all kinds of reasons for it. Some people can’t take the grind, and others decide to try something different.

   One thing that stood out about C.J. from my recollection was his intellect. The guy functions at a level far higher than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of the most intelligent people I can ever remember meeting, and that’s probably why he clashed with people in the comedy industry.

   I’m nowhere near C.J.’s level, and I’ve had my own scrapes. He’s a very smart person, but also a moral one and most of the beefs he had were about ethics. Unfortunately, there are quite a few in the entertainment game that are less than Gandhi level when it comes to treating people fairly.

   I hadn’t had contact with C.J. or Mary Ellen in decades, but somehow we reconnected through the magic of Facebook like so many others. It really is a terrific way to go back through life and get caught up, and I don’t remember if he found me or I found him. Either way, we’re in touch.

   C.J. noticed I was booked at Laffs in Tucson this week, and he and Mary Ellen now live on the outskirts of town. He invited me out to see their setup, and said it would be a relaxing retreat into nature. They run a nonprofit organization that specializes in education and wildlife preservation.

   It’s called ‘WOW Arizona!’ aka Wild Outdoor World. Their website is and they’re doing some of the most amazing work I’ve ever seen. I had no idea they were doing this, and it was one of the most memorable and pleasant experiences I can ever remember having. It’s as far removed from standup comedy as there could ever be, but there’s still showbiz involved.

   C.J. and Mary Ellen have people come to their home and they act as tour guides to see the great wonders of the desert. They’re both walking encyclopedias of fascinating knowledge of the local terrain and terrific hosts who understand showmanship. They’ve put together a unique endeavor, and it was extremely kind of them to invite me out to see it. It far exceeded all my expectations.

   Quite honestly, when C.J. said “come out and take a tour”, I assumed it would be a few minute walk around their yard and then we’d have lunch and talk about comedy. HA! Was I wrong, but that’s not a bad thing. I ended up getting treated to one of the most amazing tours I’ve ever had.

   I arrived at their compound around 11am, and it’s at the end of a dirt road located on the north end of town. They are not far from Coronado National Forest, which is almost two million acres of untouched desert beauty. Tucson has a lot going for it, and I see why they chose to move here.

   Mary Ellen greeted me and C.J. showed up a few minutes later in biking gear to begin a desert ride with one of their clients. It was a married couple from Germany who live in Quebec, Canada named Peter and Patricia, and Patricia was celebrating her 50th birthday. She and Mary Ellen had a hike planned, and they invited me to come along. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said yes.

   Mary Ellen loaded me up with a backpack that had ice cubes and a rubber tube that was used to drink water during the hike. I hadn’t planned on hiking that long, but this was a serious endeavor. We left around 11:30, and walked for HOURS. Yikes. About halfway through my legs were like noodles, but it was too late to turn back. I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I was lost in nature.

   And what a spectacular place to get lost it is. We crossed into the Coronado National Forest for much of the way, and I can see why people fall in love with Arizona. There is one particular spot where we stood smack dab in the middle of hundreds of saguaro cacti, and it was like no feeling I have ever experienced. There was a distinct vibe and energy present, and it was awe inspiring.

   Patricia has psychic abilities, and she said she could feel all kinds of energy going on there, and called it a ‘vortex’. I know I felt it too, and we stood there for several minutes to soak as much as we could. The stunning degree of absolute silence was deafening, but also majestic and soothing.

   I don’t know exactly how far we walked, but it was several miles for sure. When we got deeper into the trip we went up and down some rather treacherous hills and my tongue was hanging out. I was using muscles I hadn’t used in a long time, and I felt every bit of it - but it was fantastic!

   We met up with C.J. and Peter who were mountain biking another route, and we sat for a while and listened to C.J. tell us about the desert. The guy knows his stuff, as does Mary Ellen. She had been filling Patricia and me in on a list fascinating facts as we’d been walking, and the entire day was an educational jaunt. I hadn’t expected anything close to this, but I soaked in every minute.

   After we got back, I thought I was going to drop over. Four hour hikes aren’t what I’m used to, but this was great fun. C.J. made us some delicious tortilla soup, and he’s a fabulous cook as well as just a warm nice person as is Mary Ellen. This is a day I won’t soon forget, and we graduated from acquaintances to friends. We had a super time, and I highly recommend anyone come out to experience this spectacular place. It’s like another planet, but one I would definitely call home.

I spent the day hiking through the Coronado National Forest in Tucson, AZ courtesy of WOW Arizona!

Mary Ellen Landen (left) and C.J. Vincent (center) were acquaintances I knew from standup comedy twenty years ago. Today, we became friends. Thanks for a wonderful experience!

It felt like I was hiking through a live action Roadrunner cartoon.

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