John Schwada reflects on getting away from it all

Schwada was a reporter for Fox 11 and the Los Angeles Times (and occasional contributor to LA Observed) before he went to the campaign side and worked last year for Rep. Brad Sherman, and this year for City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and city controller candidate Dennis Zine.

I knew I was back in LA when - driving home from LAX - I heard Frank Stoltze, one of the city's journalistic treasures, making a pledge drive pitch on KPCC. I knew I was not fully back when I was welcomed home by Jeffrey Taylor, a great designer of political mail, who promptly said: "You smell like curry." Maybe not curry but Middle Eastern spices. Hard to get the stuff out of your system after eating grilled goat, ful maddamas and tempered peas for days on end.  

Halfway around the world, on the edges of the Empty Quarter, where Bedouins live and mad Englishmen (like Wilfred Patrick Thesiger) found refuge, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, sandwiched between troubled neighbors like Iran and Yemen is the quaint, forgotten country of Oman. That's where I had been. When it's 2 pm here in LA, it's 2 am in Oman. That's how far away Oman is.

Once called the most charming police state in the world, Oman is a place where politeness and civility are enforced. Lese majeste is illegal. You cannot curse your neighbor over his caterwauling cat without consequences. Like jail-time. And you certainly cannot insinuate that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ibn Said is misgoverning the country without risking imprisonment. Bedouin hospitality is great. But the flip-side is a nation without public dissent.

Political invective and caterwauling had been at the very heart and soul of my existence for the past eight months, as the paid and earned media consulting guy for the Trutanich for City Attorney campaign. I don't think an hour went by during those months when I did not commit an offense that, in Oman, would have landed me in the local dungeon. Yet the Sultan seems to rule with a light whip-hand. Four dozen or so Omani demonstrators convicted for "illegally" protesting government policies were pardoned by HM shortly before I arrived in the country. For a "police state," Oman's police are tactfully invisible. In fact, I only once saw a policeman outside a patrol vehicle. One rumor has it that the nation's taxi drivers moonlight as spies for the regime.

Oman was a refreshing change from the daily grind of LA's political season. Pick up a paper in Oman, like the English language Muscat Daily, and you could find nary a negative thing in it about HM (His Majesty).

Trutanich and Feuer, Zine and Galperin, Cedillo and Gardea (the former in each of these pairings was a client of mine) were 12 thousand miles away, as I walked, trekked, drove my way around Oman. 1519 kilometers of driving. Maybe 50 kms of walking. The daytime temperatures - in the 100's.

In the boondocks of Oman, while getting lost in the labyrinthine alleys of an ancient village where Jesus reincarnate might have found himself at home, the struggle with the heat was tiring. But it was a good tiring. Every drop of sweat squeezed another sub-cutaneous, molecular-level drop of LA and a frustrating campaign season out of my body. The broiling heat, the bite of spices, the God-tortured mountains, the sand dune deserts the size of Connecticut, the ancient villages improbably clinging to the side of gorges or enduring alongside cooling mountain streams, the white-nosed donkeys braying under the shade of a wind-blasted tree, the exotic, nasal sound of the muzzein calling the faithful to prayer at 4 in the morning, the old men with bizarrely-coiffed beards selling live goats in Nizwa's souk or fresh-caught tuna piled up in wheelbarrows at the Muscat fish souk - all of it was cathartic. They pushed LA out of my mind.

I've been asked - why Oman? How about: It's remote, ruggedly beautiful, a haven of tranquility in a troubled neighborhood. Figuratively speaking you can count on one hand the number of Omani nationals engaged in jihadi warfare. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a dire force in Yemen, Oman's next door neighbor. But not in Oman.
Why Oman? Why not? Go see it for yourself. But for me, I'm ready to get back to work. In Los Angeles. Hope to see you around the city's political/media souk.

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