Posts Tagged With: buses

The Great Paper Chase (Part I)

In exactly six days (and 8 hours) I’ll have to wake up at 2 AM in the morning, as I’ll have to board a bus headed for Caracas so I can go to my Embassy interview and fulfill the last step of the road Kathryn and I started nearly a year ago: my K-1 Fiancé Visa.

Yeah, I know it sounds like a great milestone… but what did it entail?

Well, my inner Accountant has kept track of every detail. It took:

16 failed trips to the local bus station from Jan through May, 2015… mostly done through bad roads and bad weather (I nearly caught a cold a couple of times). And when I mean failed I really mean it. I walked the distance between my house and the bus depot only to find out I wouldn’t really make it: if my bus didn’t get out of the station by 4:30 AM, well, just forget it (I recall mentioning somewhere that if I didn’t arrive to the San José Registry before sunrise to start queue-ing, to pick up one of the only 20 numbers those SOBs distributed to citizens who require a Birth or Death Certificate, it would be completely useless trip). @10 miles each trip, you can add up 160 miles walked.

4 succesful trips to the bus station, when I was able to board a bus at 4AM and it departed Caucagua at 4:15 or less…. But which doesn’t mean that I was able to reach the Registry on time… @10 miles each, equals 40 miles walked, plus 100 miles aboard a bus per trip, it represents 200 miles walked + 400 miles on board a bus, equaling 600 miles of travel.

1 successful trip (May 11th) in which I managed to catch one of those measly 20 spots in queue for my Birth Certificate… YAY!!!   @10 miles walked +100 miles by bus, which brings it all up to 710 miles traveled just for a piece of paper.

Wait! It doesn’t stop there! I also had to request a Police Background Check (30 miles by foot to find a cybercafé to print a letter) + 10 more miles walked + 100 miles by bus just to pickup the actual document, totaling 850 miles (250 walked + 600 by bus).

Luckily, I had most of the other documentation at hand in my house: I had taken care of the boarding passes early on, by making some preventive Xerox copies (though one faded a bit because it was printed on thermal paper), plus my High School diploma to prove they weren’t going to bring a completely uneducated moron into America the Beautiful, plus my grades plus plus plus whatever piece of paper that I could think about…. However, what was missing were my vaccination records, for which I can really thank my dad (the SOB actually destroyed them). Finding a decent place in Caucagua to copy all these paper took me another 5 trips to town, adding 50 miles walked to my total score…

Grand total so far: 300 miles walked + 600 miles by bus = 900 miles.

Well, that sort of covers it for this blog post.

Stay tuned to discover how much mileage I did rack up in the end of this oddysey!

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Red Tape, Red Tape Everywhere

Puzzled by red tape

Puzzled by red tape

For those of you wondering about the progress of the relationship between Kathryn and me, well, everything is doing great in the emotional department. We long to be with each other and I’ve never seen a couple that’s so well integrated in the intellectual level. But the distance that separates the two of us is a killer, though.

But that’s something we must endure to be finally together in the end,

However, we’re not doing that well in the red tape department. And regrettably, it’s my home country that’s just throwing inventive stumbling blocks in our direction to blanket the road ahead with nearly insurmountable hurdles: it took me 5 months to get my Birth Certificate (1 month just to find out where the hell I had to make the bloody request!!!), 4 weeks to access my background check (the government’s website hilariously called it 5 working days… and it was quite finicky with the e-mail address I used to register into it. For some unexplained reason there was a disclaimer that they won’t be accepting addresses that end with a Hotmail dot com domain. Doh!) … and now 3 weeks to get my passport photo taken.

Okay, you can laugh now.

Finished?

Dudes and dudettes: You can’t find coffee, sugar and soap in this country anymore; is it too much to expect that I won’t be able to have a lousy picture taken in the right format?

Well, the pictures are required for us to kickstart the immigration filing process, but it happens now that the passport photo (2” x 2”) format has apparently gone the way of the dodo in my home country. Usually, you needed it in the past to apply for one at the Identification Office of your choice and well, that was it. However, nowadays this agency is doing all their photo requirements in-house, digitalizing your ugly mug and embedding it directly into the passport… so this practice of having your passport photo taken has fallen into disuse. Now they seem only able to offer you a carnet-sized shot, which is unsuitable since the framing doesn’t cover the basic passport format standard, as it’s taller than wider and it crops the shoulders.

And so started my quest,

I began my search in Caucagua; I wasted two days combing the area, asking everyone I knew where it was ever possible to perform this seemingly easy task with no results. No one made passport photos; only ID cards shots.

I then extended my search to the nearest couple of cities/towns.

That took me the best part of two weeks, with no results

I swallowed hard, realizing that this would require a visit to Caracas.

So, I made a lot of early work and spend three hours online searching for potential places to go (had to handwrite the addresses on a sheet of paper since my printer is bust) and made a lot of preparations for the trip. (I won’t go into the elaborate torture that using the local bus system is; you can read all about it in the “Venezuelan Bus Oddysey” series of blog posts.)

Of course, the day began badly as the first thing that went wrong was that I forgot the list, something which I realized when I was already boarding the bus. I also had issues with illegal operators that dared to charge me double fare. Sigh.

When I arrived to Caracas, I found out my folly; most of the places in my lists were either out of business (as online lists down here are hardly properly updated) or didn’t do the passport thing anymore. Well, just not to simply give up, I had my picture taken in the last place I went (a very ugly one that could put any police mug shot to shame) as a token attempt to prove that at least I tried, and I paid something extra to have it cropped in a way that somewhat resembled a passport photo.

Well, it didn’t work. I sent the scans to Kathryn the other day and no matter how much the pictures were tweaked, we couldn’t pass them as passport photos.

Double sigh.

Well, back to square one.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Ahhhh-Ruba! (Part 2)

 

After I unloaded the aluminum cans, I walked the remaining mile or so on my road to Caucagua’s bus station. The sun, playful as ever, decided it was time to peek from behind the low clouds. This caused that every wet surface in sight (remember: it was a drizzly day so far) to warm up and steam to rise into the air, turning the entire area into one large sauna bath.

By the time I arrived to the bus station, I was sweaty as hell. Also, I was greeted by a vision that normally would have filled me with dismay: the long queue lines to board the buses. Since I wasn’t in a particular hurry (I still had 22 hours to catch my flight), I took this with equanimity and a relaxed attitude, ready to wait in line as long as necessary.

There were about a hundred people waiting, which is enough to fill at least a couple of buses (or maybe even 3) according to local standards.

Electronics and armpits don't mix (Steam, steam everywhere...)

Electronics and armpits don’t mix (Steam, steam everywhere…)

I was bored and I wanted to document this moment too, so I pulled out my small digital camera from the pocket of my jacket. I did my best to act as conspicuously as possible, trying to take a snapshot by concealing the camera in my armpit lest some pickpocket might feel tempted to rip the little gadget off my hands. Alas, as the blurred left picture  shows, sweaty pits and electronics don’t mix well.

Sigh. Well, I let the camera rest for a while to let the moisture evaporate and, after I made sure the image wasn’t blurry, I took the next picture, which illustrates how dilapidated and dismal the bus station at Caucagua is.

Well, I watched as two buses arrived to the depot, let people board and leave… at the rate of one every 45 minutes or so, as they don’t run on a timetable and their arrival/departure times are heavily dependant on transit conditions in Caracas. If there’s a massive traffic jam over there, well I could kiss my chance to get there goodbye.

About 10:30, I was fortunate to catch my ride and I was able to travel the 50 miles that separate Caracas from Caucagua in less than 2 hours (I told you, didn’t I?). Of course, this journey was shadowed by a very bad omen: where the hell did I put my baseball cap? I remembered I took it off and put it aside to take the pictures. During the entire bus ride I rummaged through my handbag, searching from top to bottom.

Queues, queues everywhere...

Queues, queues everywhere…

It’s not that I put too much importance into such stuff, but that’s no way to start a trip and a baseball cap is a must in the area where I live, especially at noon, lest your brains fry out. I was about to arrive to Petare, the eastern tip of Caracas, when I finally picked up my bag with both hands and looked at its underside. There was the cap, smugly grinning back at me. (Ohhh, here I was! Wasn’t that a nice game of Hide and Seek? Yay!)

Grumble.

Also, by the time I paid my fare, I was very glad that I had spend an hour scavenging scrap metal: the guys running the bus company had raised the fare almost by 50 % overnight, which would have caused that I’d be rather short strapped for cash in local currency during the rest of the trip.

I got off the bus at Petare sometime around noon. And I pondered about what I could do with all my spare time: I was supposed to be at Maiquetia, Caracas’ only International Airport and check-in at 3 AM, and the last bus going there departs at 9 PM, which still gave me plenty of time before I reached my final intended destination.

What to do?

Ah, well, I chose to walk across Caracas, from Petare to Parque Central, which is about a 5-mile long walk. And of course, I had my trusty plastic bags at hand: this city is now a filthy cesspool and there were hundreds of aluminum cans calling me by my name.:

Eeeeedwiiiinnn Stark

Signing Off

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Ahhhh-ruba (Part 1)

I returned last week from Aruba, after enjoying a six-day stay with Kathryn over there. I must admit that I’m still a bit in aftershock. My trip really began on an early Friday, two weeks ago, even though my plane did depart on Saturday. Why? Let’s face it: getting my sorry ass out of the jungle isn’t for the fainthearted, since I have no friends or acquaintances who could conveniently drop me at the airport during the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

I have every intention to chronicle this trip in my usual ironic way, since it was a very important event in my life, as the series of blog posts that follows will attest.

Miles of Road, Miles of Road everywhere....

Miles of Road, Miles of Road everywhere….

That day started rather ominous; it was raining (as always, duh!) but I was fortunate enough to have a neighbor give me a ride to La Recta de Caucagua, at least saving me from walking the 2-3 miles out of the housing development where I reside. The picture to the left depicts La Recta, which is just a straight three-mile, two-lane highway that connects the only supermarket in the area with the main town. See that red circle, highlighted by a bright yellow and red arrow? That marks the town borders and it’s halfway the road that I still have to walk.

By the way, this picture was taken sometime around 8 AM and the weather was already showing a very bad attitude towards me right then. It was drizzling every five minutes and only the occasional sliver of sun was able to make it through the overcast skies above.

It’s a very lonesome road, with only the sound of the passing cars that rush past to keep you company. Of course, I could have taken the bus from the supermarket to town and save myself the hassle, but why hurry? I had a whole day to reach my intended destination and the prospect of reaching the airport too early didn’t really excite me much.

Aluminum Cans, Aluminum Cans Everywhere...

Aluminum Cans, Aluminum Cans Everywhere…

Anyway, I couldn’t but resist the temptation to do a final roundup of scrap metal scavenging before embarking on this little adventure (as the picture at the right shows). I was opening a can (pun definitely intended) of worms with this, you know; what if the guy that buys them out from me wasn’t open that day? It was early Friday and the locals are known to goof off the day before any given weekend. If this was the case, all my work picking up aluminum cans would be lost. What could I do with them? The guys running the bus to Caracas wouldn’t allow me to board it while carrying two filthy bags smelling of stale beer. Of course, I could conceal them under some brush and come back for them a week later, but my chances of this were few. I tried this ploy a couple of times and the bags weren’t there when I returned for them even only a day after.

I nerved myself and headed straight to the place where I could ditch my crushed cans.

Fortunately, nothing of this happened and I was able to exchange nearly six pounds of cans for the measly sum of 87 bolivars. In the end I was glad of this, since the money proved useful to cover some unexpected expenses I met along the way.

So, I was now relieved of my smelly cargo and it was still early: 9 AM. Where to now?

Onward to the bus!

Well, that’s about it for now. Stay tuned for the continuation of this exciting (YAWN!) journey!>

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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Welcome to the Legal Jungle

I’m not particularly fond of Guns ‘N Roses’ music but I feel that their Welcome to the Jungle song sets quite nicely the mood for today’s blog post (and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell song also does seem queerly apt to describe the current state of affairs in my home country).

So, Kathryn and I met at Curacao a couple of weeks back. Where does this leave us?

Well, we had a wonderful time at the San Marcos Hotel and we talked for hours without end, so we’re now working on the little detail of taking our relationship to the next level.

We’re making plans to meet again during the second week of March, this time in Aruba (just a couple of hundred miles away from our first meeting place). We talked a lot about the future, marriage even, since we feel we know each other extensively from our long online interactions and from the three days and nights we spent discovering in person all the fine little minutiae that we couldn’t share online due to the limitations of the medium. But while Kathryn is eager to try, I don’t really want to raise any false hopes in her.

Not that I’m not eager to take this big step, too; after so many years looking for the right girl, I can feel she’s the one. But there’s the matter of the legal mess I’m immersed at my home country. You see, for starters, I’d have to start rebuilding my legal documentation; my father, that charming asshole I occasionally talk about in the most obliquely way possible, is responsible for the destruction of all my legal papers, including my birth certificate, all my elementary school grades and even my vaccination records. I’m lucky that I still have my High School Diploma, Venezuelan ID Card and my Passport (this last one took me three years to take hold of, mind you).

This has caught me unprepared, as living in the jungle certainly dampened all illusions that I’d ever meet the right girl, so I never got around the point of rebuilding my documentation from the ground up. Sigh. Shows how wrong I was.

Oh, yes, you could say: “well, go ahead and start digging up all those required papers” but that’s only proof enough that you don’t know crap about my home country, which is now rife with corruption and malicious bureaucracy. Trying to locate my birth certificate will be hell and it will mean countless trips to Caracas just to find out how and even more trips to finally get it. I’m talking months here. I’m also focusing on the legal proof that I’m single, properly certified by two Ministries, which will mean hundreds of hours of legal wrangling with the system… and more bus trips. I don’t mind the required legwork nor the trips, but the legal system of my home country is deliberately structured in a way that you never get what you want without bribing someone to get it, which goes a little against my built-in moral code.

Of course, I’ll try to get most of the necessary paperwork the kosher way first, and I’m also considering a middleman to handle all the legal crap for me, but that also takes time, as I contacted everyone I know in Venezuela (very few people) for a referral to a trustworthy, reliable international lawyer knowledgeable on all the required steps… hopefully someone who won’t charge me an arm and a leg for their services.

I guess that all that’s left to say is: Dream On!

Honestly, Kat, I’ll try to get hold of at least those two papers.

Just don’t expect much in the way of results.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Return to Hell

My Fair Lady and Me... I'm such a klutz that I couldn't do a decent selfie...

My Fair Lady and Me… I’m such a klutz that I couldn’t do a decent selfie…

Well, I made my trip to Curacao and back.

I’m glad to report I managed to return safe and sound with too many extra bullet holes in my body and that no one tried to mug me during all the land mileage I accrued while traveling by bus all accross my crappy home country (well, the albino Latvian pickpoket I met on my way to the airport tried, but he barely counts).

Anyway, the tale behind this trip is so interesting that a complete account of it is in the works and I’m planning to sell it as a short story or a novellette (or whatever name I can stick on it to squeeze 99 cents out from you). That’s why I’m adding a poll to the burning question of “Will you buy the Kindle Edition?”

Now that we got that little detail out of the way, let me tell you that, yes, the lady represents in real life what I already surmised from all our intimate online interaction. She’s nice, caring, helpful, smart, interesting… and yes… we intend to meet again as plans to meet in some other location are long underway.

Now, what does this means to my immediate future? Well, I can’t really tell… She’s back at her home, and I’m back at this smelly, craptacular jungle, wistfully thinking about her. The road ahead is still full of gloom and uncertainty. As always, things would be great if either one of us suddenly hit upon writing a bestselling book that would make things easier for us by greasing the way with some extra money. Alas, the outside world is terribly indifferent about the fate of two lovers, especially when one of them is stuck in the middle of a tropical rainforest and everyone seems infected with the disease of non-involvement. A pity.

However, this meeting with Kathryn, albeit such a short and brief one like this, proves to me that we ought to work harder to overcome the many hurdles we’ll find along our way together now. Wish us luck.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

 

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Update to Curacao

There’s an unwritten corollary to Murphy’s Law that states that the chances of something going completely belly-up is directly proportional to its significance (and this trip to meet Kathryn at Curacao is very important as to see if she can put up with the budding horns growing on my forehead and my smell of sulphur). And another unwritten corollary says that if you come from my home country, these possibilities are raised to the power of X times any subject’s given value.

I solved (sort of) the matter of printing my flight information and my insurance voucher (for those of you not versed in the matters of my country, there’s a resolution from the Ministry of Tourism that says I won’t be allowed to board any plane without showing proof of travel insurance) by having a friend print it all out for me.

But that was just the first of a long series of hurdles I still have to face.

Of late, I was having issues getting online access to my itinerary on the airline’s website (which, BTW, has such a poor rating that I’m of two minds in my choices of boarding that plane or swimming my way to that tropical island). Seems this particular airline has been revamping their website recently, and apparently it has commissioned its design to Munchkins on methadone; I get tons of 404 errors while trying to access information in web pages I just loaded in my browser, and this organization is probably outsourcing the online access to reservation details to a web services company in Thala Kampell (a small unheard-of-country in the Himalayan Tibet, sandwiched someplace between Nepal and India) for, on every occasion I tried to input my booking reference or e-ticket numbers, it constantly spewed back that my name is invalid or void.

Of course, after an entire weekend tearing at what little of my hair remains (and dealing with the existential problem of being told by a Thala Kampellian computer that I don’t exist) I decided to contact the airline offices in Caracas. Of course, the only one of their local phone numbers that I noticed was buried under one of those 404 Page Not Found errors. I consulted the local Online Yellow Pages. Yep.. another phone number… this one completely outdated.

Of course, it doesn’t help either when you only have access to a phone service that seems to have been designed by Alexander Graham Bell… last week. My phone (which is just a cell phone masquerading as a regular phone) doesn’t work if there’s no electric power, takes no incoming phone calls and most communications are garbled with a nasty feedback echo of your own voice that makes everything hard to understand.

Time for a plan B.

I chatted with Kathryn today and told her of my issues, warning her that she should take over if I didn’t make any progress (we’re sort of a Online Tag Team from Hell, you know). Luckily, I managed to find a working phone number and I spent almost an hour explaining my problem to a mindless drone who thought I had an Industrial Blender working in the other room (which is the way the phone sounded to me on my side of the line). This person had a slow, monotonous drawl that made me suppose he reads Excel spreadsheets as bedside stories for his kids (though, truth be told, is anyone’s guess if this guy has ever got a chance to reproduce with that voice).

Well, after an hour of that, I was passed to a supervisor, who apparently seemed more interested in cursing me in Swahili than solving my problem. However, I was able to resolve this mix up on my own (I guess) in the end.

Now, to tackle the next hurdle.

Which involves taking a (gulp!) bus to Caracas…

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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Nooooo!

There’s a scene in the Revenge of The Nerds movie where a Takashi, the Japanese exchange student (a.k.a. the Japanese Nerd) asks an amused John Goodman if he can get out early from his work. Poor Taka has been working as a locker assistant for the same moronic College jocks who are directly responsible that he is currently without a place to sleep, and he wants to get out early to resume his search for an apartment.

Of course, this poor guy also has to put up with the humilliations that the jocks impose on him, like placing a sweaty jockstrap over his nose while his hands are full of a bunch of the damn things. Well, you can imagine Takashi, standing there with a an armload of recently worn jockstraps and a wistful look in his eyes, eagerly waiting for the coach’s answer. Meanwhile, there’s a sadistic glee painted on John Goodman’s features; he’s certainly enjoying himself at the moment.

After a moment that seems to last an eternity, the coach finally makes his pronouncement: A rather subdued but soul-crushing NO!!!

All this so you can have a good idea what’s life like in my home country.

Today, I had to visit Caucagua so I could print a couple of important forms relevant to my trip to Curacao. It was  Ia very simple errand; just download the PDF files and print them out, but I admit that I was standing with certain trepidation in front of the cybercafé where I intended to perform this task, knowing beforehand what would happen next: A) The Internet would be down B) the cybercafé’s printer would be on the fritz or C) the locale’s printing protocol wouldn’t work with PDF files…( believe it or not, this has happaned to me several times).

And this mental picture of John Goodman uttering his resounding NO! came back to me again and again, refusing to leave me in peace. No wonder, since my home country is the sort of place that constantly forces a guy to live in total denial of the simplest things in life (and Murphy’s Law has certainly been jacked up until it reaches eleven).  I swallowed a steely ball of saliva and opened the front door.

The guy in charge of this place is a rather pleasant fellow. I asked if the Internet access was working well.

He fixed a unwavering, ice-cold stare on me… OMG! Here it comes!

The man opens his mouth after a moment that seems to last an eternity:

NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Well, that’s not exactly what he said but it comes to that in the end. Internet access is dead all over the town. I best take the bus and ride 50 miles to the nearest city to try my luck.

Isn’t it comforting to live in a place where uncertainty about an answer has been so absolutely obliterated?

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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On the move again…

Once more, I’m forced to use the Venezuelan bus system. This time because my Internet Service Provider is practically down; its access speed dropped from its nearly-unlivable 16 Kpbs to a awww-just-it 2 Kpbs (to give you a better idea how bad this is: your Internet access speed is probably in the 128 Kpbs (ADSL) or in the 256-512 Kpbs range depending of your provider.

Since I’m at the final stages of self-publishing my next book (and trying not to lose contact with a special someone), I had to temporarily move my operating base to a friend’s house, 300 miles away from the jungle. I have very little freedom under these circumstances and I can only stay here for 24 hours; I must return very soon to the hellhole I reside in.

Fear not; I won’t make you through the ordeals I narrated in The Great Venezuelan Odyssey Parts 1 thru 7. (But I’ll post the links so the new followers of this blog can have a look through them: Parts 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7)

I regret this will be a rather short post; who knows when I’ll be able to return to my regular posting schedule. But I want to take advantage of the opportunity and remind Kat that she’s on my mind, every day, every single second, even during these hard circumstances.

Time to board the bus back home.

Pray for me, folks…

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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What’s life in my home country like nowadays?

Monica Spear and her husband (you can look up her name on your favorite web search engine) were visiting my home country; their car broke down late at night in a pitch-dark highway (is there another kind?) and when they were receiving the assistance of a tow truck, a gang descended from the nearby rancho-peppered hills and these hoodlums killed them both, hurt the couple’s five year old daughter with a bullet and stole anything that wasn’t nailed down. It was a horrendous crime.

But this is business as usual down here. We have 100 murders per 100,000 inhabitants (last time I checked), which makes my home country one of the top 5 most violent places around the globe I won’t even say the “V” word (the name of my country) in this post; it has proven dangerous to tell even the truth about it). I guess I’d star mentioning it as the Mythic Kingdom of Aleveznue from now on to avoid potential trouble (I’m wondering for how long I’ll still be able to sneak these small… commentaries, you know).

I guess you’ll be smart enough to work your way around this little anagram.

Want to know what’s life in Aleveznue like? It’s waking up at 6. AM (when it’s really 6:30 AM; the government saw the notion of setting the clock back 30 minutes as a more burning question than do something with an inflation bordering the 60 % yearly rate) and start your day hunting down your kitchen a couple of coffee teaspoons and see if you’re able to brew a decent cup of java. Want some milk with that? Good luck; maybe there’s some leftover powdered milk from the other day. In my personal experience, I haven’t seen a jar of fresh milk since 2006.

And the average, happy, Aleveznuan steps out of the door of his home wondering if he or she will ever come back alive. He or she will spend nearly six hours of his daily routine stuck in the most impressive traffic jams you could ever fantasize about. He or she will still have to put up with the regular eight hour shift, so he or she will probably reach the sanctity of their home by 9 PM…. if they didn’t cross paths with a stray bullet along their way.

Plus, the current Aleveznuan regime is purposely instilling an atmosphere of hate and total fear in to every single facet in the lives of every single citizen out there. If you want to know what’s living in Orwell’s 1984, well, come down here… I’ll show you a taste.

If you dare.

I have to live here.

You don’t.

Edwin Stark

Signing Off

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