During my college years, I worked at a dude ranch two summers in a row in Wyoming and I met this guy around my age, Bill Barnett, the first summer I was there. I was hired as a waitress, working with a crew of girls my age to serve the “dudes”, or guests, every morning, afternoon, and evening. Bill would ferry people to and from the airport, to and from the town, parts of which were straight out of the 1950s. The ranch was a surreal place, having been around since the turn of the century.
Bill was always an eccentric character who said odd things and went his own way. One afternoon I dared him to throw his coke in my face and he did it without hesitation. He turned me on to Richard Brannigan and Charles Bukowski.
If you haven’t heard of Richard Brannigan or Charles Bukowski, you should find them and read them right now. If you feel like a little bit of weirdness and would like to laugh. A lot.
Bill went from basically a glorified gopher in a Wyoming van to founding an Asian hospitality and real estate business wherein he travels the world and even established permanent residence in faraway Phuket, Thailand. In my mind, at least. He did a lot of other stuff after the dude ranch stint.
And, on top of everything else, Bill’s a writer. Thank God. So all that stuff going on in the rest of the world won’t be wasted and can get filtered through the unusual lens of his perceptions. His travelogue, Collective Swag, is, as the cover claims, “A BUDDING LUNATIC’S SIDEWAYS JOURNEY THROUGH ASIA.”
He discusses any topic imaginable concerning life in Phuket, traveling the world, and every iteration between including “Seventeen Ways to Die in Phuket,” “The Art of Travel Warfare,” and “Down But Not Out in Danang” with humor and lyricism:
“Voices came out of the night, as fire eating torches and bongo drums rocked and rolled with the island breeze. Slowing down, first to a walk and then dropping to my hands and knees I started to crawl, call it retro, or even regression back to my mother’s arms.”
“The last few months of the Bangkok Shutdown have thrust me into the imaginary drink mixer, with the knob turned to high.”
When I met him those many years ago, we were surrounded by snuffling horses, by the blackest Wyoming nights, by austere cowboys, and the future was uncertain, a stranger we had yet to meet and get to know. I don’t think Bill waited or worried about anything like that. I think he tossed his coke into the future’s face and then shoved his way past, making a beeline toward the other side of the world. No apologies. No looking back.
His books are all downloadable and free. They’re at the bottom of the newsletter.