When Paradise Calls.
It was May 1996. I was twenty-four going on twenty-five years of age. John Major was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. I had spent half of January and pretty much all of February in Australia. That was an epic experience and I assumed that I would come home and settle back down into a pretty uneventful year. How wrong I was!
I was at work one afternoon, I worked in electrical distribution back then. My phone rang and, when I answered it in my usual anticipation of some sort of appliance installation drama, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my dad’s voice. I was even more surprised when he asked me whether I would like to join him for just over two weeks in Mexico! Without any cautious consideration about work, I immediately agreed to go with him, within the following ten days. After all, life is short, right?
My dad worked in the film and television industry, primarily as a Stunt Choreographer and Stunt Man but he did some acting, too. This was his chance to enjoy a break in his filming schedule. He mentioned a place called Cancun. I’d never heard of it, but he said it would be a five-star hotel on a beautiful beach overlooking the stunning Gulf of Mexico. From my drab office in west London, paradise was calling. There was, however, one problem. How could I possibly ask my boss for a holiday at such short notice, when I’d already been granted, and had, a seven-week extended break to Australia?
I supervised not just an administrative team in the office, but a team of delivery drivers and installation engineers. There was surely no possibility that I would get this additional leave authorised. That’s when I knew that I would probably have to quit my job. I couldn’t see myself having another chance to travel to Central America and so there was no way that I was going to let any job stand in my way of seeing such an exotic part of the world. I felt guilty and nervous, but my mind was made up. I would ask and, if necessary, I would have to resign.
What followed was astounding. My boss agreed with my view that I could either “…quit my job and go on character building adventures…” or he could “…retain me and my proven skills and benefit from my ongoing personal development upon my return.” He was won round by my argument and he gave his consent for my leave.
I love airports. There is something about the noise, the atmosphere and the buzz that arises in me, from soaking up the spirit of adventure. There are the sounds of excited chatter, the announcements of flights departing and arriving, the excited gazes of those newly landed and the variety of languages you hear. There’s the range of people, the sight of planes taking off and landing, through the windows, and the joy of seeing people making sad goodbyes and joyful welcomes.
I am nervous about flying. I was less so, back in those days. I generally found flying boring and still do. The part I have always loved is the take off; the firing up of the engines as you buckle your seat belts, the manoeuvre of the plane onto the runway, the sounds of the engines getting louder and then the sudden jolt as the plane pushes off for a loud charge down the runway. Then comes the part I hate, the plane ascends into the air but, as it climbs, it dips, then it climbs, then it dips and this goes on until the desired altitude has been achieved. Every dip causes me to pray silently, in my head. Once at the desired altitude, I ridicule myself for being nervous. Once I have a gin and tonic in my hand, I relax. Well, I slightly relax.
Having flown to Sydney a few months before, I thought this journey of about fourteen hours would be simple. It would feel quick. I was wrong. The journey seemed to go on and on and on. My boredom was broken by the terrible news, on the radio, that ‘ValuJet Flight 592’ had crashed in the Florida Everglades. It was later rumoured that survivors had been attacked and killed by alligators in the swamps, but I am unsure if this was proven. How unlucky would you have to be to survive a plane crash, only to be eaten alive by an alligator? My heart went out to those poor people and their loved ones.
We finally arrived in Mexico. My dad and I both rather grumpy from tiredness. It had been a turbulent descent onto the airport runway. Eventually, the doors were opened and we clambered out of the claustrophobic plane. I noted to myself, with glee, that I was standing on the ground of a country I had never been to before. I always love that moment. I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel.
The airport in Mexico reminded me of cheap local authority offices in the most run-down parts of London. It all looked rather shabby and in need of investment. There was no air conditioning in the intense heat, nowhere to sit and no refreshments to satisfy a now very dry mouth. I wasn’t impressed and I felt a little anxious about what to expect from this holiday. This is the moment when excitement and nervousness became confused. I decided to simply look around and soak up the experience.
There were a few ceiling fans, loose ceiling tiles that revealed very dodgy looking electric cables. The paintwork was peeling and dirty. The airport staff wore khaki uniforms and these were all soaked in vast sweat stains. The scent of stale sweat was everywhere. The check-in staff literally all smoked cigars and these were either hanging from their mouths or were sat in enormous glass ashtrays. The ashtrays were located on each desk, each piled high with the ash that had been flicked there with every passport check of the last week, it seemed. Despite the grubbiness of this scene, I rather enjoyed it. I loved the smell of cigars and I was amused by the apparent lack of any sense of fire risk. I imagined that perhaps I had landed in the 1940’s.
As we finally made our way out of the airport, we were met by a dozen or so sweaty and eager taxi drivers. Each promised us the most comfortable journey to our hotel, via the most scenic route available. One middle-aged taxi driver, sporting the same handlebar moustache as my dad, leapt forward and announced that he recognised my dad from a movie. He made such a fuss that he managed to shepherd us into his old, fading yellow Volkswagon Beetle. My dad was 6ft 3inches tall and I was 6ft 2. How we crammed ourselves and our luggage in I don’t know, but I am sure it must have looked ridiculously comical to anyone watching.
We arrived, a little while later, at our immaculate hotel. I have never seen so much marble in one place and the chandeliers were vast. This never appealed to me, but I appreciated the contrast to the dilapidated airport. My adventure in Mexico was just beginning. I had planned to leave my dad for a few days and go back packing, on my own, around the Yucatan Peninsular. I couldn’t wait for that part of my holiday; to experience the real Mexico. It would, indeed, turn out to be a truly eventful adventure; gunfights, bandits and ancient pyramids.
A Golden Friendship.
Cancun in 1996, by any stretch of imagination, was not Mexico. Cancun, in appearance, was the United States of America. Although the market has opened up a lot to the ‘average’ traveller, since my visit there in 1996, I am sure that Cancun is still very much the playground of the rich USA set. Certainly, I found that anything representing Mexico had been turned into some ‘Disney-fied’ version of Mexico aimed at tourists seeking a ‘theme park’ version of Mexican culture. I found this rather sad. Mexico has such a rich heritage and such a vibrant culture. Why would anyone not want to indulge in the authentic beauty?
Don’t get me wrong, Cancun seemed a fantastic resort if you want to enjoy beautiful, glossy hotels on the stunning Gulf of Mexico coastline. It’s just not the place to go if you want to be able to say “I’ve been to Mexico”, for it bears no resemblance to the real Mexico; a land of fascinating ancient and modern history, a people of the most kind and generous nature I think I have ever experienced in my worldwide travels, a landscape of such natural splendour and a society that still stands with one foot in the third world, while stepping boldly, into the first.
I had enjoyed a few days of rest soaking up the sun, good food and all of the comfort that a luxury hotel, made of dollars and marble, can offer. The rest and the luxury were restorative and I am truly grateful for the privilege that my dad’s career afforded us. It’s just that I am not a luxury hotel, sunbathing all day kind of guy. I like to make my own food, shop where local people shop, mix with real people, speak in the language of the country I’m visiting, experience the culture and learn from meeting random people from all walks of life. There’s nothing better than sharing stories of living life, around a fire, with home cooked food, honesty, tears and laughter.
Besides, my discomfort at being guest in this fine hotel was increasing. I had been fortunate to experience many fine hotels in my life. My dad’s work in the film industry had offered us many high-end indulgences. I had, however, worked in a fine hotel in the heart of London’s Seven Dials area, in Covent Garden. This was a six star ‘de-luxe’ hotel and was regularly home to Royalty; hosting various events and functions. Once you work in hotels, you feel a sense of ‘family’ with anyone else working in that field. That never leaves you. Having done the job, it felt uncomfortable to be served by others; particularly once I started speaking with the hotel staff in Mexico and discovered that their salary was shockingly just $12 per day!
One of the hotel staff I would regularly chat with was a man called Oro. He was in his forties and he told me he was married and had several children. He described how he and his wife had a home, some distance from Cancun, in a city called Valladolid. Oro described how he worked in Cancun during the ‘tourist season’, to make money to support his family. He explained how the very low wage was supplemented by taking tips. He showed interest in me, in England and the UK and we shared stories about working in hotels. Initially his interest was perfunctory and no doubt aimed at achieving tips but very soon we started to chat and seek each other out for talk of culture, politics and humanity. I told him of my plan to go back packing round the Yacatan Peninsular and how I wanted to visit the beautiful pyramid and ruins at Chichen Itza. Oro was so proud of his heritage.
Oro told me that his name means ‘Gold’. He described how he had been named that because, in the first moments of his birth, a small gold bracelet had fallen from where it hung on the wall to land on the floor beside where Oro’s mother lay as she gave birth. Oro revealed that the bracelet had belonged to his grandmother. Apparently, knowing she was soon to die, she had been desperate to see the arrival of her first grandson. Sadly, she had passed away before Oro’s birth and so missed his entry into the world. The family took the fallen bracelet as a sign that the grandmother had found a way to be present, in spirit. His Mother had reached out to pick up the gold bracelet at the moment of Oro’s birth. She named him Oro, in honour of the gold bracelet and his grandmother.
Oro, who I thought to be an urbane man, asked me more about my plans and he revealed to me that his house in Vallalolid would be en-route to Chichen Itza. He was going to have a couple of days off now that his shift was coming to an end. He would be heading home the next day but he invited me to visit with him and his wife, in Vallalolid. I was touched to be invited. What a privilege! I gratefully accepted.
Oro told me that he thought I was unlike most tourists. He said he found it so unusual that I actually spoke with hotel employees as equals. He stated that he was impressed that I was making effort to get by in using the Spanish language, that he found me to be very polite and kind. Oro, who was at the end of his working day, sat with me discreetly and I brought out a couple cigars, which we smoked as we continued to chat. It was dark, we were sat at a small wooden table with wooden chairs and the sound of waves breaking on the shore provided the sound-track to our cigar-fuelled chat about life, the universe and everything.
This was a connection between two people from such different worlds. There was an honesty between us and a sense of brotherhood. It felt great to just sit and talk openly and honestly with someone who, despite so many differences, just connected with me and understood something deeper. We talked for hours about our different life experiences.
The next day, I researched how I could get to Vallalolid. This would be my chance to see the real Mexico and I felt so honoured to have the wonderful offer of an evening at Oro’s house with him and his family. I would have to get up early to catch one of the plentiful tour coaches at the beach that were heading to mighty Chichen Itza. I would have to arrange to jump out en-route, to find Oro’s house in Vallalolid.
Oro had offered an apologetic description of a traditional stick-built house, with a relatively new breeze-block extension; which he had told me he had afforded by working at the hotel. He described that the house was on the outskirts of the city and that I should disembark from the tour coach some way short of Vallalolid and catch a small village truck that would bring me into to his village on the outskirts of the city. I felt clear, organised and ready. I was ready for adventure.
I said my farewell to my Dad; assuring him I’d get back to the hotel by no later than four days from then. He was cool about it. I was in my twenties and he had been adventurous in his life, so he was supportive of my desire to just ‘head out and see what happens’. This was before I ever had a mobile phone, so there was no safety net in terms of having communication available if something should go wrong. That was just the norm, back then. I kind of miss that, today.
It felt liberating to leave the confines of my ‘marble palace’; to leave Cancun with just a back pack and head off. I had a pocket of cash; US Dollars seemed to be the currency to use. I had no idea where I would sleep that night but that was part of the excitement. I didn’t want to just assume that I could stay with Oro and his family overnight and I had been too (English) polite to ask. I soon found a large tour coach at the beachside and waited for a while in a queue, in the soaring heat.
That is when I met Olive and Blossom; two fifty-something African American women who, as they told me, were best friends holidaying together. They were from Chicago and I immediately fell as in love with their accent as they had fallen in love with mine. We clambered onto the coach and set off towards the mighty Chichen Itza. The driver, who reeked of stale garlic, mumbled from under his peaked cap and through his significant moustache, that he knew where I wanted to get out and that he would signal me when it was time for me to disembark.
I was mesmerized by the vast stretches of the road; really just a very wide dirt track, which were of the most vivid deep orange coloured soil. It looked like Martian soil, I imagined. The vast number of miles of jungle and forest stretched out in all directions, at times. I’m not sure I had ever felt so remote from civilization, but in a good way. The small windows of the coach were open and the noise of the wildlife in the jungle could actually be heard over the noise of the coach and passengers. It was the most vibrant, alive sound I have ever heard.
I enjoyed chatting with my two new friends from Chicago but little did I know that the conversation I was having with Blossom and Olive would soon be interrupted by gunfire…
Gunfire in the Jungle.
Olive and Blossom were two very characterful women. They explained to me that they had been life-long friends. They had never married and had lived together as companions since they were in their twenties. My instincts (gaydar!) suggested that these two striking and confident women, with neatly trimmed and greying hair, were probably partners but frankly that didn’t matter. I understood the context of the era and how coming-out was still a very risky thing to do. If they were a couple, then they were a wonderful couple. If not, then they were simply wonderful friends. To me, they were just wonderful, whatever.
They told me they had grown up in a rough part of Chicago. Olive’s father had been a pianist in a jazz bar for many years before his death and her mother had been a seamstress. Blossom’s father had been a taxi driver for his entire life, in Chicago, and her mother had worked in a variety of roles including cleaner, waitress and singer in the jazz circuit. Olive and Blossom’s parents had met through Olive’s father and Blossom’s mother being in the same jazz band together. The two families had then become life-long friends. Olive and Blossom had decided to spend their fifties, and onwards, dedicated to travelling the world and so here they were chatting with a twenty-something guy from London in a coach in Mexico! As ever, our dear Queen Elizabeth was a source of conversation and fascination to them. I started to wonder whether all people from outside Europe think that all British people actually know the Queen, personally? We don’t, by the way.
We continued to chat about our different home lands and lives until we were interrupted by a sudden flurry of what was immediately evident as gunfire. I felt my heart pounding, as I acknowledged to myself what the sound was. Our driver swerved hard and then put his foot down hard to speed us up. Some of the passengers gasped and squealed, as the coach lurched around. The coach shook hard as we made a dash across increasingly bumpy dirt roads. We had left the main road we were on and our driver started yelling out that we were under fire from bandits! I couldn’t make out most of what he was saying in incredibly fast Spanish, but other travellers near me translated and it was clear we were being targeted by a small truck with gun wielding bandits, aiming to stop our coach. I could hear the sound of fellow travellers escalating their gasps into screams as we continued our efforts to escape.
Everyone bowed down low in their uncomfortably hard seats to avoid bullets but I decided to stand up to see what we were facing. A little way behind was a small open-backed truck. It was orange, red and white and clearly rusty. It was kicking up dust, coloured much like the truck and sometimes came too close to our coach, that it would be lost in the cloud of dust our own vehicle was making. There were two guys in the cab of the truck and two guys in the back of the truck. They stood, holding on tightly, with large guns held by straps over their shoulders. They were visible over the top of the small truck cab. They were smoking. I don’t know why, but I noticed that and thought it looked so surreal.
As one of the men in the truck reached for his gun again, I ducked down for cover, though I knew they were targeting the body of the coach, rather than the passengers. I recognised this was likely to be an opportunistic highway robbery scenario, rather than anything worse. This could still have been tricky, but I didn’t feel that these guys were behaving like hostage takers or terrorists. I am not one for panicking. I knew that would be a mistake.
Without warning, our driver swung the coach round into almost a complete u-turn and he hit the accelerator hard. There was a scream from the front of the coach as I suspect passengers there could see us narrowly missing our assailants. There were clouds of dust everywhere, inside and out. Passengers, on this coach journey into chaos, were coughing as the dust filled their airways. Within minutes, the coach stopped and the driver opened the door by his side and yelled at us all to get out, run and take cover. For a split second, I wondered what to do. This felt risky. Almost on auto-pilot, I found myself hurrying out of the coach and jumping down onto the dusty earth and I turned to help Olive and Blossom down. There were many clumps of trees, rocks and shrubs and so I indicated to Olive and Blossom to follow me and we ran to a nearby copse among the beautiful, large plants and bulky rocks.
It was difficult to see exactly where my fellow passengers all ran to, but it seemed like quite a few minutes before the bandits arrived. I looked between the trees and rocks to see what was happening. The bandits drove their truck, at high speed, around our coach a few times, firing bullets into the air and at the coach, shouting obscenities about the USA as they carved out an increasing depth of tyre tracks amidst billowing clouds of dust. I made out the sound of traditional Mexican music coming from their radio and then, without explanation, they turned and left. One of the men threw a bottle at the coach as they departed and I watched it shatter into hundreds of tiny pieces as it bounced from the bullet-holed coach, onto a jagged rock in the orange dirt.
They were gone. The cloud of dust rose into the air, behind their speeding truck, almost like a trail of smoke from a fire was heading away from us. An occasional gunfire into the air could be heard, as they drove away; the sound of the music of a Mexican Fiesta celebration gradually diminishing with them. After what seemed like many minutes, the weary and very hot group of travellers that we were, made careful and cautious steps out from our hiding places and back towards our coach; the driver yelling again as we went.
Fortunately, the driver deemed the coach tyres to be in good order and he stood by the coach door to welcome us back and assist everyone back on board. He was an overweight, sweaty man and he was very stale smelling. As soon as we were all seated, having cleared as much dust and glass from our seats as we could, we set off and a spontaneous applause filled the bus and echoed its way through the surrounding terrain.
I leant across the aisle to make sure Olive and Blossom were okay but, before I had chance, they both reached out a hand to me. I held onto both of their hands and gave them a squeeze. We looked at each other, Blossom shook her head, with a few tears rolling down her face and Olive said “Thank you Lord”, as she looked up as if through and beyond the roof of the coach.
We continued our journey, increasingly passing more traditional stick houses; suggesting that we were getting closer to Valladolid. I knew that it would soon be time for me to disembark and say my farewells. As we drove back towards the road that we should have been on; heading towards the city of Valladolid, I felt a very long way from home. I smiled. I had wanted an adventure and I chuckled to myself about the drama we had just been through.
It was time for me to depart from the coach and say my farewells to Olive and Blossom. They said that they would be visiting the mighty pyramid at Chichen Itza the next day and that we may well bump into each other again and I hoped that we would meet again, for these two formidable, funny women who, by this point were squeezing my hands again, had really been a joy to travel with. In these days before social networks and the wide use of the internet, I was used to a world in which you met people and then you said goodbye, potentially forever; with the hope that paths would cross at some future point.
I stepped out of the battle-scarred coach, waving to the many faces with whom I had shared the adventure of being shot at by bandits and set off to await the village transport to Oro’s house. I stood under an enormous tree with the whitest bark; the local landmark used as a bus stop. I was thankful for the cooling shade. As my coach departed, leaving a trail of vivid orange dust in its wake, I was met by a small truck. It was not unlike the truck used by the bandits. I thanked the driver, paid him and climbed into the open back of this truck. The sides of the back of the truck were not much more than old planks of wood nailed to posts with gaps between, through which a mixture of warm air and dust permeated.
I soon found myself with other travellers; mostly young women dressed in the whitest of robes that were emblazoned with a circle of multi-coloured stripes around the neck opening of their tops, who carried woven baskets full of vegetables. The material of their robes and the intricate stitching of these coloured bands around the neck opening of their tops were an astonishing sight of Mexican culture and impressive craftsmanship.
The driver dropped me literally outside Oro’s home; a dwelling of two parts. On one side a traditional stick house with thatched roof and to the right, a new breeze block extension. The perimeter was a three foot stick fence and just in the background were a chicken house and pig house. The animals roamed free within the entire boundary of Oro’s land. I was greeted by Oro and his lovely wife who burst out of the traditional stick-built side of their home with what must have been seven or eight children who were all cheering and smiling as I arrived. Even the chickens and pigs and a delightfully scruffy dog rushed up to meet me. I felt so welcome.
In honour of the privacy that I came to understand and respect, in Mexican people, I will not write about my afternoon, evening and overnight stay with Oro and his family; apart from to state that I have never known, in people who were almost strangers to me, such beautiful humanity, grace and kindness. Oro touched my heart and I carry that memory of him, and his family, with me always.
Those Moments When.
The following morning, having made my tearful goodbyes, I eventually found my way back to the bus stop and picked up the next coach ride to Chichen Itza. I had to stop and just think about how touched I was by my friendship with Oro. Saying goodbye was hard to comprehend after sharing so much. I had my moment of thought and acknowledgement and then the realisation that I would soon be seeing Chichen Itza, hit me. The excitement I felt at the idea of seeing an ancient pyramid in the beautiful Mexican jungle was building in me. It was the stuff of dreams.
In the coach, I sat alongside a young woman from the USA. Her name was Jill. She was about my age and she told me that she lived in Colorado but had decided to spend twelve months travelling the world. This seemed like a wonderful ambition, until Jill told me that she was dying. She had recently been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and had been told she would live for no more than one or two years. I was utterly stunned. Hodgkins Lymphoma is a vicious cancer that develops in the Lymphatic system and spreads with aggression.
Jill was this vibrant young woman with a beautiful head of long brown hair and eyes that sparkled whenever she spoke of home. She was just in her early twenties, with a beautiful smile, a polite and incredibly friendly disposition and a lust for life. This was her way of taking in a lifetime of travel experience; cramming it all in while she could. Her adventure, as she prepared herself for her impending departure from life. She captivated everyone with her kindness and humour.
For me, having already experienced the pain of losing many loved ones to cancer, I felt the familiar pain of helplessness and sadness well up within me as I thought about how cruel and unfair this was. I thought, too, of Jill’s family and loved ones who, on the brink of losing her, had given their blessing to this time away that she needed. Time without her, when such time would have been so precious to them. Jill encapsulated youthful wonder. She also demonstrated a maturity and wisdom that only comes from the reflections of an end of life. I had seen this before and I recognised it in Jill. Her travels would be her pilgrimage. I will always treasure meeting Jill and often think of her, to this day.
We passed through the bustling and cheerful city of Valladolid. If I had stayed with my coach the day before, I would have been able to stop and enjoy this lively, pretty city but then I would not have had the very special time with Oro and his family. I was happy with my choice. I told myself that I would try to catch a ride back to Cancun that would stop at Valladolid, so that I might explore.
Over the remaining journey to Chichen Itza, Jill and I chatted about our different childhoods and the cities we had grown up in; my London and her Denver. We talked about family, our school lives and before we knew it, we had arrived at Chichen Itza. At this moment I suddenly felt sad that my dad was not sharing this experience with me. I knew he was happily enjoying his rest at the beach.
We emerged from the coach. The terrain was much more neatly controlled. The dirt roads were broader and were well maintained. Rocks, painted white, lined the verges everywhere. As we approached the ancient ruined city, each side of the road was lined by tall trees and jungle foliage. Women at stalls, all wearing the traditional white robes with the same multi-coloured stitching that lined the neck openings of their tops, sold a variety of beautifully hand-crafted items from wallets, to clothes, musical instruments and all manner of objects to decorate one’s home with. Of particular beauty were the immense hand-crafted rugs. I bought myself a small hand carved wooden smoking pipe and a couple of woven wrist bands. The rest of my loose change went to the many children that swamped each tourist with gleeful smiles and open hands.
Once these children received a few cents each, they would politely step away and pull out of their pockets little white bags containing fiery hot chillies, which they munched with the same enthusiasm a little child in England has when given a small bag of penny sweets by a loving Grandparent. I chuckled at the idea of English children being given a bag of these, knowing their reaction would be one of disgust and splattering coughs.
Jill, myself and the other travelers stepped forward into a world one would usually only dream of. A world of the ancients, of mystery and of wonder. I could have been a million miles from home. I have never felt so far away from London, despite having been to Australia just months before. This was unlike anything I could have imagined feeling. I stood and stared at the majestic ancient pyramid, which seemed to be a staircase to the heavens, and I wondered about what the people back home in England might be doing, while I stood in this astounding place.
I felt truly blessed to be so fortunate as to have an experience like this. In that moment, I felt connected to the ancient past, to the awesome present and to my home in London. All seemed inter-connected. I savoured those moments of feeling spiritual.
I spent hours exploring so many fascinating and historic ruins. I did get to bump into Olive and Blossom while I was there. I was so pleased about that. We had time for a quick catch up and they gave me that final squeeze of my hands as we said goodbye. As sad as that moment was, there remained that sense of wondering at whether we would ever again meet. They would soon return to their beloved Chicago. Remember, these were the days before everyone had mobile phones and social media. You simply had amazing encounters with people and then left them behind, ever hopeful of fate bringing you together again at some point, yet somehow peacefully accepting that this would be unlikely.
Saying goodbye to Jill was all the more difficult. This truly was a definite goodbye. The finality of that moment was hard to bear and so, to me, she will ever be alive and smiling in wonder at the great pyramid of Chichen Itza.
Likewise, I like to think that Oro will ever continue, like me, to look at the stars and wonder at the impossible magic of the universe and smile at our friendship.
© Dean Parsons 2019.