Monday, April 30, 2007


RIDING THE CAMEL. First shots here are of me, the Okie crip, being placed on then riding the desert beast. It was thrilling. They are about as twice as high as a horse and three times as ugly. Later you will see Paul shooting camels, shooting and riding, and Chet taking a spin.


Desert shots


The first day we took off in 4-wheel-drive vehicles for a long joy ride in the Qatari desert. We were driving along a highway when the pavement simply stopped and the desert began. We were in a caravan of ten cars. Our personal driver, nicknamed "The Desert Rat," liked to drive the sand like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The last pic here is Chet pointing out Sauda Arabia across a small inlet.


These are images from a week in Qatar. The first one is a group shot of my intrepid traveling companions -- cinematographer and old friend, Paul Goldsmith; crack field producer, Columbine Goldsmith; and the man who made it all happen, ABILITY magazine publisher Chet Cooper.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


This is our last day in Qatar and I have been unable to write here much simply because there’s been too much to do, both interesting and obligatory. It is now prayer time -- Muslims pray 5 times a day -- and you can hear the call to prayer as I sit here on a pier along the inlet coast on the Doha boardwalk and look across the bay at a skyline of a hundred hi-rise buildings, all of which were built yesterday or the day before. As my bud Paul points out, our hotel, on the tip of the peninsula of buildings I’m looking at, was the first one built after Qatar became a country in the mid 70’s. This is a place growing at warp speed.

Yesterday the big event was the trip to Aljazeera headquarters, something that we were only able to arrange a few hours before we drove through two sets of guard gates with little or no identity. In fact Paul’s identity was his name on a piece of paper and they said, “Fine, no problem.” As long as you don’t have a video camera, which of course we did. Aljazeera is Qatar-created and based, and is widely considered in America to be the propaganda arm of Osama bin Laden and other Arab America-haters. We were anxious to face the media devil who liked to broadcast American captives in Iraq getting beheaded on mini-DV cameras and all of those other “rotten apples” who were keeping us from establishing freedom in the Middle East. Aljazeera thinks of itself at the BBC for the rest of the world. The current administration thinks of them as Fox for the bad guys. You decide, assuming you could watch Aljazeera on American cable, which you can't.

The devil’s PR guy was a young, tall, soft-spoken Arab named Abdullah whose self-defined mission was to show us every broom closet and editing nook in the whole world news complex, a series of one-story buildings away from the big skyscrapers and 400 other buidlings under construction. The entry of the original Aljazeera, the Arab-speaking production unit (they now have an English-language unit and a pure documentary unit), was a room full of glass encasements with artifacts from the field.

One display was that of the Aljazeera (AJ) reporter who was “accidentally” shot down by American gunfire while reporting from the roof of the press buiilding in downtown Baghdad. Another display showed a picture and some handwritten letters from an AJ cameraman who is being held as a terrorist suspect at the American gulag in Cuba. The letters were to his child also pictured on the wall. The guy could be a deadly killer of Western infideds, I guess, but he sure looked like an innocent-faced tech worker with a family to feed. His story will be fascinating when he gets out, a story you will first see on Aljazeera.

Other displays held camera and other production equipment damaged on the battle front somewhere. AJ covers a lot of battles. Except for Iraq, where they were ordered to leave, they have bureaus in every war zone on earth, no doubt. While American news operations, except for CNN, probably, are cutting foreign bureaus because American viewers could care less about the war in Somalia or the election in Nigeria, AJ does nothing BUT foreign news coverage. The local Qatari rulers, the Emir and his administrators, don’t really like to turn on the TV and see news about Qatar, especially bad news. Their control of local news, on AJ or elsewhere, is only just starting to loosen. You can now read letters from disgruntled foreign workers in the local paper. As I said, this is a country changing from a desert tribal model of society to a world power at warp speed. It’s a great place to watch the history of the future unfold.

Monday, April 23, 2007


My fellow Americans: If you are planning that next big vacation to Hawaii or maybe the Daytona 500, I'd suggest you reconsider and head for a week in the gulf region of the Middle East. I know that wasn't high on your holiday agenda, but maybe it should be. It's wonderful here. I'm in Qatar -- get out the globe -- but could as easy be in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or the island of Bairain. Don't come in the high summer months -- it gets up to 40 c here, which translates into 110-115 f range. Come right now, in April, when it's only a mild 90 f during the day and cool at night and the living is pretty damn easy.

And it's not expensive, assuming you catch a good deal on air travel. The Qatari rial exchanges at 3.5 to a dollar. You can buy an entire male Arab wardrobe -- gown, pants, head dress, and some bond beads thrown into the deal -- for about 125 rials, or $35. It's all white cotton, very nice and very comfortable. A cab ride from a hotel to the local sueq, or marketplace, will run you about 9 rials. If you wish to rent a car, gas here is ridiculously cheap -- about 75 cents a gallon. You get the idea. We're not talking a $15 cup of coffee at a snooty New York hotel.

The gulf region is the cutting edge of the Middle East in every way. It's like the transition zone between the West and the Arab world, kind of like getting to know the blues by listening to the Rolling Stones. One big travel manual called Qatar the most boring place on earth, but they were wrong. Apparently they had never been to Kansas (just kidding, I love Kansas). I'm sure the pleasure dome of Dubai, the Las Vegas of tfhe Middle East, is a lot more fun, but since most of us Americanos know so little about this part of the world, everything here is, at least initially, new and exciting.

The main thing, I guess, is that it's just refreshing, almost liberating, to be at least slightly out of the oppressive mindset of American media, ie Washington politics and Hollywood hogwash. This morning's Qatar Tribune did report on the Sundance Film Festival and flip a TV dial and you're watching Larry King on CNN Worldwide, but that stuff has the same impact here that the Nigerian election or English football has in the New York Times, ie, not much. I know you world travelers out there already know this, but even most of you know Europe and that's it. This ain't Europe. This is a brand new world that will sooner than later leave Europe and the US on the downside of history.

More to come. Gotta go eat a date.

Friday, April 20, 2007



In a few hours I will be boarding a plane to travel to Qatar in the Persian Gulf to attend a big disability confab. Chet Cooper, publisher of the esteemed ABILITY magazine, arranged all of this. He was invited, so he thought I should be invited, then thought we should document the whole adventure on video, so then invited my old TVTV comrade Paul Goldsmith to shoot the thing and his daughter Columbine Goldsmith to coordinate the production, and there you have it -- four wide-eyed Americans headed for a week in the Middle East with no real idea of what they are getting into.

I know very little about Qatar. I plan to bone up on the long flight to London, then from London to Doha, the capital. I do know that it is pronounced "CUT-ter," not "cut-TAR," like most Americans think. If the occasion arises, I'm going to politely suggest that they think about changing the name of the place. It's too tricky for Americans to pronounce and if they want those American vacation bucks, they need to come up with something catchier, like Disney World or Branson. Just a thought. If you like Qatar, then Qatar it is.

Qatar is by all accounts a stable, friendly, relatively liberal bastion of progress and prosperity in the region. For instance, women there can both drive and vote, and they aren't required to cover their faces in public. It's pretty relaxed for men, too, or so it seems, though our pre-conference guide book suggested that men not wear shorts or "vests." We were momentarily confused about vests until we realized they meant undershirts, what we would call "wife-beater" T-shirts. It's kind of a gangster look. I can see why the Qatari frown on it as a fashion statement.

We are attending the Second Annual International Forum on Children with Special Needs. The main topic this year is Disabilities and the Media, which is why we were invited. Chet publishes a magazine, I wrote a book, and the Goldsmiths makes films. Tony Blair's wife, Cherie Booth, is scheduled to be there, along with a host of other dignitaries. Al Jazeera is in Qatar, too. We hope to drop by and see them.

That's all I know at this point. If you know a good place to eat in Doha, please let us know. Otherwise, stay tuned. I consider this the first leg, so to speak, of my vaunted dream of traveling around the world in a wheelchair. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,902 mi. This trip of 8,287 miles one way. Hell, I'm a third of the way around the world already.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


This is a wordy blog site, I know, because, you know, I LIKE words. Words are my life. I will try to add some visuals, especially when I take off for Qatar next week to attend a global disabilities conference. Meanwhile, here is another absolutely superb letter in response to the book. It is written by Joe Patten, a father of two from Baltimore, and it expresses perfectly how stories like mine travel and where they might land. I am Joe's dad, only a few years younger. We both live in the kingdom of the sick, to use Susan's Sontag's term, and we often get lost. Thank you, Mr. Patton, for this:


I am a salesman in the Baltimore, Maryland area. This past Friday
afternoon, while driving, I needed to take a leak and replenish the coffee. Barnes & Noble seemed like a good place to accomplish this. Bathroom first - Coffee second. After leaving the men's room, I was walking through the biography section on my way to the coffee stand and saw a book with a picture of a man in a wheel chair. I was in sort of a hurry, but I did pick up the book to read the overleaf because about two years ago, at the age of 71, my father was diagnosed with a condition - transverse myelitis - less than three years into his retirement. I cancelled my afternoon appointment, bought my cup of coffee, found a couch, and read for the next two hours. I bought the book before I left, and had it finished by Sunday.

I'm the only surviving child of my parents, 46 years old, married for 22 years, have a son away at college and a daughter in private high school. Our life, and the 1-2 hour distance that my parents live from me (depending on traffic), has limited me in my complete understanding of my father's condition. I fully understood the physical aspect of his condition that he and my mother are coping with, but for a long time I have felt that his mental perspective has been kept hidden from view.

Two years has passed and I was hoping that the attitude he was displaying was genuine, but at the same time, I wondered. He and I are close, but it seemed he was keeping something from me. I went to see him yesterday. I told him that I had read a book about a man that had been diagnosed with the same condition as he, and that I understood some things that I had not before, especially when it came to terms of acceptance and moving on. He cried. He and mom have educated themselves and used all of the online resources to gain a better understanding of what has happened to him, but he still has questions. He is still in the "Dark" stage of learning to deal with his life he now has. He has publicly accepted his condition and understands that there was probably nothing he could have done to have prevented it, but I think when it's just him, he still asks "why?".

I read about twenty books a year, mostly books that have been given to me. There are some books that that have left a footprint on my life, but this book of yours has created a whole new category. It's the new "Self Help in Understanding the Unexplainable Things in Life (that we don't have enough time to ponder to arrive at our own conclusions without the guidance of experienced people)" category. "The Best Seat in the House" has set the stage in my library.

I am going to give Dad this book on Easter Sunday. He was 71 years old when diagnosed. He was retired. He has rehabbed to the point where he can walk with a walker short distances. He has full use of his upper body. He does not currently use a wheelchair. I think you can see the impact this book is going to have on him. Thank you for hanging in there to clear the "Dark Chapters" of your life and taking the time to write about it. Thank you for your honesty about the facts. And please understand that your book is going to have a therapeutic impact on my father in a way that none of us ever could.

Best Regards,

Joe Patton

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


First off, thanks so much to Hena Cuevas at "Life & Times" at KCET-TV in LA for a splendid feature last night on life after paralysis. Transverse Myelitis is a rare and mysterious disorder and with the help of Dr. Dan Rovner, my longtime neurologist, Hena made it clear and simple to understand. More people in LA probably heard about transverse myelitis last night than every before. Again, thanks, Hena.

We've received hundreds of letters on since "The Best Seat" came out. They are invariably moving, touching, funny, and sad, or all of the above. At least half are not from readers with disabilities, but from the friends and family of the disabled, trying to gain some perspective on what their loved ones are going through. Even if the book just helps get the conversation going, that's great.

With the permission of the authors, I've decided to publish some of these letters for others to read. The one today comes from a delightful woman from Franklin Springs, Georgia named Barbara Hart. Like many readers of the book, Barbara has no "big time health problems" at present, but knows that something strange and unsettling awaits her as she gets older, just as it awaits damn near all of us. With this short intro, I give you Barbara Hart:

I just finished your book; two sittings. Loved it, freakin' loved it. It should be required reading for all us baby boomers. I have no big-time health problems right now but have started what I call "the organ recital." You know, last week it was ovarian cancer, this week it's melanoma, and next week, thanks to your book, it will be transverse myelitis lol !!!!!! Anyway, I did very much like the book. I could gush forever, but I won't.....unless you write back and say gush some more and then I will. I send a lot back to Amazon but this one stays on the shelf.

Several years ago, I read a book about a fellow who had contracted AIDS. Can't recall the name or the guy, but the entire book from cover to cover was about his futile effort to find help, all over the country and other parts of the world. I wondered at the time how much time he was wasting on chasing "miracle" cures. I ended up throwing the book in the trash.....not because it was about AIDS, far from it, but because the guy could not and would not come to grips with his condition. Heartless on my part? I thought so at the time, but after reading your book you put what I was feeling at the time in perspective. Sometimes (actually most of the time) shit just happens; no fault, just shit.

Two more things. One, when I introduced my soon-to-be second husband to a friend back in 1984, the friend said, "Barbara's going to marry Martin Mull and have his babies." My second husband was and is a dead ringer for Martin Mull!!!! No kidding. We didn't have babies, but that was by choice so there are no southern Mull types running around here.

Secondly, and lastly, you got one thing very, very wrong in your book. Sexy and being interesting to the opposite sex has nothing to do with legs or any other appendage. Sexy is funny, or at least to me and other evolved woman types. You, my dear man, are very attractive, funny and sexy. If Ann-Marie gives you the heave ho, come on down south and party with us. I'm told I still have the face of a 35 year
old (that anti-aging thing again), but, you know what, Al, the neck doesn't lie!!!!!

All the best to you and your family. You done a good thing with this book, my man.

Barbara Hart (age 57) but who cares!!!!!
Franklin Springs, GA

Thanks, Barbara, and keep them cards and letters comin'.

Monday, April 09, 2007


For those of you in the greater LA area, check out "Life & Times" on KCET, the primo public TV station in town, tomorrow night (Tuesday, the 10th) at 7 pm. Reporter Hena Cuevas came by the house to talk about the book, transverse myelitis, and life after paralysis. It's the biggest exposure the book has gotten in LA so far. If you miss this airing, just go to and find it in the "Life & Times" archives.

I leave with Chet Cooper, publisher of ABILITY magazine, videographer and old friend, Paul Goldsmith, and field producer Columbine Goldsmith next week for a trip to Qatar in the Persian Gulf for a big global disability conference. Stage one of around the world in a wheelchair. Check in here for strange tales of the Middle East.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Thank you, Karen Meyer, crack disability reporter for ABC7 in Chicago, for the wonderful feature piece this morning on your Sunday Morning News Show. Karen came out to Barbara's Books in Oak Park in sub-zero Chicago weather the day after the Bears tragically lost the Superbowl to film this piece, an act of extreme dedication. Native Chicago son/celeb Harold Ramis makes a guest appearance in the piece. The video is not available on line, but the transcript is, if you're interested. The link is

Coming up: A feature on "Life & Times" on KCET in Los Angeles, scheduled for 7 pm on Tuesday, April 10th. And both Ann-Marie and I appear as guests on the Montel Williams Show on a still-unannounced air date, but hopefully soon. We'll let you know.

Again, thanks, Karen, and hope to see you again soon.