Showing posts with label #greyhound. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #greyhound. Show all posts

03 June, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) Eugene, Oregon: The Great Lane County Paper Chase

Children must be considered in a divorce -- considered valuable pawns in the nasty legal and financial contest that is about to ensue. -- P. J. O'Rourke

...I never try to protect a society which does not protect me -- indeed, I might add, which generally takes no heed of me except to do me harm... -- Alexandre Dumas

Eugene, Oregon -- Other than being the home of Grindbone brother and friend Noah S. Kaplowitz, his girlfriend Becca, and their kids, has a lot of history tied to it. Once a hotbed for union activity... the Wobblies were active here in the 1920's, as well as in the 1990's and early '00s, when then mayor Jim Torrey called it "the anarchist capital of the United States"... not to mention a regular stop on the Grateful Dead Tour... Eugene is still a city made for wanderers and pilgrims. There are no loitering laws, apparently, which makes it a popular summer location for transients, nomads, and other folks who spend a considerable amount of time on the road. And, as Kap and Becca pointed out, there's a lot social nets for folks in need...state and local housing and food assistance, shelters and employment assistance, and the like. It's also a college town -- which speaks neither well nor badly of it -- which means that not only are there folks who really do live Out and About, but there are legions of kiddies who look like they do.

Don't let the apparently overwhelming amount of humanity here -- say, as opposed to someplace else like Norfolk, Virginia -- fool you. Because apparently the state of Oregon has, over the past couple of years, cut funding to children with special needs -- children like their son Henry, who will need life long perpetual care.

Which is to say: the Powers That Be are doing an effective job of turning people's frustrations against one another instead of having it focused on them... where it belongs.

This is nothing new, of course. Coal companies in Kentucky used racism to slow the formation of unions -- a tactic which is still highly effective in border states like Arizona where it's easier to blame the brown hordes than it is to address socioeconomic inequities created by a  near-fascist state government (that was barely kept in check by former Governor Janet Napolitano. I say barely because the fact that she is a Democrat does not nothing to prove that she was inherently more empathetic to the concerns of others. In fact, that she's a Democrat might actually prove she's more of a hypocrite. At least GOP'ers, Tea Bagger Yahoos, and socially irresponsible Libertarians are honest about not giving a shit. It's not much of a higher ground, really. But I do appreciate the absence of bullshit, even if I can't sell my soul wholesale in order to subscribe the shallow rhetoric.

A lie.
If you're unclear as to how completely fucked the system is, look at Family Court.

Kap's friend James asked him to go to court with him. James was notified 22 hours prior that his ex-wife was taking him to court over custody of their kids. James, who coaches his sons' baseball team, is active in boy scouts, had is generally well thought of by most of the people who know him -- even though he's a loud Milwaukee Prussian and a salesman to boot.

His ex apparently left him for a (recovering) junkie.

Naturally the court system is working double-time to ensure that the children are in the best environment.

Anyone familiar with the well-known objectivity of the legal system knows instinctively what this means:

  1. James is guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof is on him and not his accuser.
  2. To the court, regardless of common sense, Mom and her junkie BF can provide "a more stable and conducive home environment."

On the outside, the Lane County Juvenile Court Building looks a corporate business park. The only real indication that it isn't is when you walk in and have to empty your pockets for the metal detector. The guard, a retired mall cop who waived people through if they stepped out to smoke, couldn't have been less interested in making sure the building was secure... unless of course, he simply unplugged the detector and advertised free toilet paper.

On the inside, it reminded me slightly of a bad museum. Kids sitting around, waiting to go to court. Grown ups sitting around waiting to find out whether they get to keep their kids or whether they are going to lose them, grown-ups wandering around wondering why they have to outside to smoke. The only art I could find were two badly done murals extolling the moral superiority of whitey and a fatally flawed and watered down historical timeline of the history of slavery. The case worker, who looked like an anorexic 12 year old, was more interested in helping James' ex than in getting a detached picture of the situation.

By the time we got into the court room, two things became clear:

  1. James' ex was playing the system like a skin flute, and
  2. The judge, while she didn't seem to buy any of it, nonetheless, had no choice but to inflict a broken system on a situation where it wasn't necessary.

James' visitation was severely cut and restricted to supervised visitations... which pretty much ruins every plan he made for his kids for the summer. The kids are in the temporary custody of the mother. Apparently because the oldest -- who is 10 -- doesn't want to talk to a shrink -- it means something is wrong. I don't know the details of the situation intimately. But it doesn't take a genius to see that when you have a caseworker who doesn't collect all the facts, a system that will award temporary custody to someone who can cry on command, and a judge who needs to make sure she covers hers and the system's collective asses... all at the expense of the kids ... something is wrong. Somewhere.

We were there along with James' former boss -- who was there to refute a statement by the ex that he was fired because of his anger management problems -- and it all felt so... predictable.  Like every person associated with the system was sleepwalking through the proceedings. The only time the children were brought up directly was when an agreement was made for the first supervised visitation. The court appointed attorney who was supposed to be there to look after the best interests of the children sat and scribbled. The social workers yammered. The judge rolled her eyes. The Court Clerk told me to take my toboggan off.

It was a grand day for American Justice.

22 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) : The Adventures of Cletus the Dog Man

Manage Your Wildlife: Wear Fur -- (billboard 25 miles from Wall, South Dakota)

"The only reason Gary Snyder ate that shit was because Kerouac wrote about it in a book." - Outlaw Brother ABD Dave Jones on eating trail mix.

There was a fog settled over metro Minneapolis on the morning I dragged Dave and Jamie tired out of their bed to haul my ass to the Greyhound station on Hawthorne Ave -- strategically located near the baseball stadium and the fairly upscale digs belong to the Starvation Army.

I always end up thinking about the old Joe Hill song, The Preacher and The Slave. It's also been called Pie in the Sky. Here's a recording of me singing some of it. No, I think I'm a singer. No, I don't pretend to be. I know plenty of musicians. 
But a song is only a revolutionary song if you sing it yourself.

They were, however, out, with tables set up, giving coffee and donuts to the city's homeless. I understand that that even try and use more money for outreach than for administrative costs these days.

I didn't sleep much the night before departure, thinking about what was next to come. I was hoping to be able to see the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is 20 miles from both of these touristy juggernauts, and neither is really all that accessible unless I A) want to walk, B)I want to pay for some touristy bus tour that will annoy me 3) try and hitch; and since I scared the crap out of a coffee barista this morning -- when I walked in JUST to buy a cup of coffee -- chances are that my hair mug will not inspire some kind driver to take a chance on a hairy Irish mug in a silly hat.

The trip here on the bus, however, had it's own interesting merits. I slept most of the way to Sioux Falls, where we stopped to change drivers and pick up new more passengers heading west, heading toward the route's final destination, Billings, Montana. (Billings is the transfer depot for all points west on this particular route.)

We stopped in Jackson Minnesota for a food break. It was a Burger King. I didn't want to eat fast food, but I wasn't sure when I'd get another shot at a meal, and I for sure wanted a cup of coffee. I ended up getting a medium coffee and a breakfast burrito. It was still chilly. Standing outside of the BK eating my burrito, a girl walked out holding a frappe'. She got on the bus with me in Minneapolis... only there, she was wrapped in a large pink blanket. Cute girl. Short, shapely, tired looking. Shoulder length dark hair, tied back. Pale skin.

"I was gonna smoke," she said hugging herself... she was wearing an over sized black t-shirt and black stretchy pants... "but forget that." And she headed back for the bus. I overheard later that she was trying to get to Billings because her boyfriend dropped her off in St. Louis and kidnapped her son.

When we stopped at Sioux Falls,  we picked up about a dozen or so people. A lot of them looked like they were headed for L.A. Among them were

Cletus the Dog Man and His Crazy Wife.

When it was time to reboard the bus, Cletus called out that he and his seeing eye dog should've been first in line. I looked, of course, to see if there was something to his complaint. Cletus wore a beat up black leather jacket, jeans, a thermal with a Sturgis design on it, and had a ball cap jammed down around his eyes. Shaggy hair. grayish blonde. He honestly could've been my age or a few years older. His wife was bony, sallow-faced, and nervous. faded blonde hair, almost colorless blue eyes. She had the look of someone who had been beaten down in this and in probably other past lives... the compound interest of abuse was etched into her, gave her a jumpy junkie demeanor.

The dog was a beautiful tan and white mix boxer mix. He was collared and leashed, clearly loved, and clearly trained.

But he was not a seeing eye dog. And Cletus wasn't blind. Without my glasses, I'm more blind than he was.

That didn't stop them from insisting themselves onto the far back bench by claiming to be disabled.

When we pulled out of Sioux City, the driver informed us that we were 15 minutes behind "on a tight schedule." There would be one food stop in Oacoma, just over the Missouri River. Ostensibly, that meant only one place to smoke.

I take my smoke breaks carefully. I smoke a pipe, and when I can afford them, cigarillos, and I want to enjoy the creature comfort. I was content to wait until the food break to smoke. Cletus and his wife would have none of it; and they found an ally in the shapely dark haired girl who's boyfriend left her in St, Louis and took her son to Billings.

"When we gonna stop for a smoke?" Cletus started quietly, trying to build up crowd support. 10 years ago, that sort of thing would have worked but there weren't a lot of smokers on the bus and the ones that were had no desire to make a fuss over it.  He'd crescendo to a point... but seeing that no one else was taking up the banner, he's settle back into making smart ass remarks about bus drivers and power trips. The Crazy Wife would cackle at his remarks.

When they couldn't smoke, they would bicker and sometimes Cletus' wife would say things like "You get out  of my head! Get out! Out!" Or stomp her feet. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, shaking like she was going through withdrawal.

By the time broke the boundary of the Missouri and pulled into Oacoma, Cletus's nicotine fit reached a near fever pitch. I let them get off the bus first to avoid being accused of keeping them from their smoke break.

There was an Arby's in the small travel plaza we stopped at, and everyone who had money -- including the cute blonde Brit in front of me who was suffering from post-break up trauma... reading He's Just Not That Into You (with the movie cover), and repeatedly looking at pictures of her with some muscled guy on her smart phone. She wore the engagement ring on the middle finger of her left hand, and would look at it and play with it. I'd see her in side relief sometimes... she laid the seat back just a little and she was sitting diagonal and in front of me... and she looked so sad. Sometimes sad. Sometimes angry. Sometimes she would fire off long texts. I told myself she was writing another break up book. The thought made me a little sad. I wanted to tell her it didn't matter, that hearts heal and life moves on. But I would've wanted to smack the shit out of someone if they had told me that in January when I set out. 

I didn't want to eat Arby's ... didn't want to spend the money. So I bought a bottle of water and bag of fruit and nut trail mix from the gas station convenience store. That left me time to smoke, so I stood out near the bus, facing the westward sun on the horizon, and lit a cigar. No one spoke to me. I tried to empty my thoughts, focus on breathing. I'm not one to sit and meditate in the sense that monks meditate. I do like to find moments during my day, though, to focus on my breathing and try and center my thoughts. This is not the easiest thing to do; we've made  life  into something complex, full of noise. Full of other people's noise. Full of other people's obligations, full of society's obligations.

Fuck all that.

Standing in the setting sun, I enjoyed the cigar smoke in my mouth blowing out into the South Dakota air. My thoughts turned to people I love and who love me. Then it was time to board the bus and keep going.

Somewhere around Wall, it became clear that the bus wasn't going to stop until Rapid City. Cletus started commenting about need a smoke break. He wasn't even trying to get the rest of the passengers involved. He was trying to cajole the driver into stopping... which never works. I thought about telling him about the time I watched a bus driver throw an obnoxious vodka drunk off in the middle of New Mexico... left him in the middle of the damn desert with his near empty bottle and his luggage.

Somehow, I didn't think Cletus would take it as a parable.

By the time we got to Rapid City, Cletus was threatening to let his dog... that he said needed to take a walk... piss on the bus. His wife was telling him to get out of her head, that she didn't need him. They were trying to figure out a place to stay in Rapid City, and they called her mom to look up cheap motels on the internet. But she didn't want to call her mom, didn't want to talk to her mom, didn't want any kind of god damned thing from her mom, and she threatened to leave Cletus just for calling her.

When we pulled into the station, I let them get off the bus first. The dog, rather than acting like he had to piss, was the best behaved of all three.

The first thing I saw when I got off the bus was a sign advertising $1 pints, all day every day. Deciding instantly that was where I was going to go, I wanted to check the station to see if there was some information about the city, something to help me get my bearings.

I remembered passing an old house just outside of Rapid City proper with a sign on it reading Friendship House; but I couldn't find it in a phone book. No listing for a homeless shelter, either.

Maybe the beer would clear my head and give me an epiphany.

As I walked over, I heard someone call out to me. "Hey Brother!"

I turned. It was Cletus. He was sitting on a ledge, surrounded by some bags, with the dog. His wife was nowhere to be found.  went over and talked to him, smoked a cigar. He didn't have a lighter that worked, so I gave him a box of matches. He told me that he and his wife were traveling, looking for work.He was from L.A. She was from North Carolina. They happened to get off the bus in Rapid City and got a line on a job working Sturgis for Bike Week. He asked what I was doing; I told him I was traveling around.

"If you're looking for work, man," he said. "Pop a squat. We're waiting on a ride now."

His wife walked back from a Mexican restaurant across the street; she'd managed to score a free meal from the kitchen. She eyed me suspiciously, was very careful about her food. She made mention of being pregnant. The thought of it turned my stomach a little. She was too skinny to be as far along as she claimed. If she was pregnant, I felt awful for the child. Not so much because of her condition. She looked strung out; but hunger can do that to.

Sometimes the face of hunger is worse than the face of withdrawal.

I left them there, waiting for their ride to Sturgis. I hope they made it. 

26 April, 2012

Disappearing Geography, Bluegrass Slingshot (Westbound Expedition): Willow Drive, KY

Drink all of your passion,
and be a disgrace. - Rumi, "A Community of the Spirit"

Some may never live. But the crazy never die. -HST

I'm heading to Lexington, KY on Saturday so that I can catch a Greyhound to Louisville, where I'll be visiting with college chum Amanda (nee Hay) Connor and her husband... who I haven't met, and is, as far as I can tell totally unaffiliated with Morehead State University in anyway. I have  decided that rather than hold this against him, however, that I will embrace the ever changing universe and give the ol' boy a chance.

After all, Louisville DID manage to birth some pretty interesting stuff:

Hunter S. Thompson.

To say Hunter S. Thompson has been an influence on my life might sound crazy, but his writing -- all of it, including his non-literary w stuff -- have provided me with more How To moments -- particularly as a freelance journalist -- than any journalism class... for the possible exception of Ken Sexton's Intro to Photojournalism class, during which he pointed out that there's absolutely nothing abnormal about a bottle of whiskey in your bottom desk drawer.

RIP Hunter. Hope the next ride's a good one.

Johnny Depp

I provide a picture of Johnny Depp for my one or two readers who might actually be women. Not sure of the attraction. And while I could've gone with any number of images, including one of him dressed as a Disney ride pirate, I didn't. Thought I'd give one to the the Emo Kids... poor, misguided bastards.

The Louisville Slugger
A favorite for bar brawlers and leg breakers everywhere, the all-wood construction of The Louisville Slugger makes even a kid who couldn't hit a slow pitch to save his life feel like spitting in the dirt.

The Kentucky Derby Chicken Run
Then there's The Kentucky Derby. It is of this last one that I intend to write.

Let me begin by saying that if you believe it's only a horse race, you are mistaken. If you think it's simply an excuse for women to wear ridiculously large drag queen style hats without being accused of taping up a third leg, and for men to drag out those ties they got for Christmas, you're DEAD wrong.  I'm saying this not only because I KNOW BETTER (Accept this now. It's just easier that way.)

Believe it or not, I tried to find a pic without a blonde. No.  Really.

Sadly, I won't be able to afford to actually get into the Derby. Nosebleed, standing room only spots on the green start at around $40 a pop. At this point, I don't think I'll be able afford to even put some money on any of the races... which, if you know me at all, you know is absolutely tragic.

And no, it's not that I'm particularly good at gambling on horses. It's just that I like it. A lot. No really. The Daily Racing Form is pure poetry to me. Pure. Poetry.

Let's move on. I'm salivating.

But since most of you out there reading this... and yes, I believe you're there... haven't had the experience of hanging with me at the OTB, just let me say that there's something primal about the experience. Spending time at an OTB... not to mention a track... gives you a kind of pristine perspective of the true heart of America. Think vivisection. Every folly of man plays out between the first bell and the final run, from the brave to the downright stupid. Every kind of gambler, from the mathematician (If I weigh carefully all variables I can't lose!) to the mystics (Never bet on a gray horse!) and non-gamblers (What's a Superfecta? Is it like getting crabs?) are there. Some even bring their kids. The daring and the desperate, the lucky and the leg-breakers all come out to the OTB. And they're from all walks of life:  the shiftless, the unemployed, business professionals, retirees, teachers, preachers, hookers, construction workers, government employee, hopers, dreamers, misguided snake charmers. And I'm leaving some out. And I won't tell which one I am, either.

Have to leave something for the imagination. (A stripper taught me that.)

(Can I just point out that auto-correct wanted to change "hopers" to "hoers"? I love technology.)

And I will write more when I'm there. I'm actually pretty excited about the prospect of seeing an old friend, about visiting Louisville while it's in the throws of total debauchery, and about my westward expanse.

Oh yes, dear readers. It's coming. 

06 April, 2012

Porkopolis Unbound: Opening Day 2012

O'er all things but thyself I gave thee power, /And my own will....  - Percy Bysshe Shelley Prometheus Unbound

I want to play music when I want, write a song if I want or watch a baseball game if I want.
-- John Lee Hooker

Although I have lived in and around Cincinnati off and on for years I have never before been downtown for Opening Day. I'd heard there was always a parade and that it had long been something of an unofficial holiday for the city; so naturally, this intrigued me.  The last time I'd been near downtown when the city was actually letting it's tightly curled hair down was the last time I went to RiverFest (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble) ... which was probably the last year they sold beer. The year after, the city went "family friendly" and restricted the sale and consumption of booze... which of course, meant all the people who drink and who also have kids stayed home, watched the fireworks on television, and drank for a lot less money. Keep in mind, however, that Cincinnati has a history of hammering down on anything that isn't WASPY enough to pass... unless they figure they can make a buck off it.*

Baseball has long been thought of as America's game... though to some people it does look an awful lot like the English sport Cricket.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings/

Early Cricket Batter. I sort of like the hats.

And in spite of its history of problems -- from racism in the early days to the more recent steroid abuse problems and everything in between... not to mention the evil wrought on the game by the New York Yankees (Curse their Name!) --  people -- baseball fans, at any rate -- still think of it that way.

I remember when my Dad stopped watching baseball. He never forgave them for the 1985 strike. It lasted 7 weeks, between June and August; the 25 games that weren't played ended up being made up later in the season.  From his perspective, professional athletes had no excuse to squawk about how much money they made. (The strike actually had more to do with the sixteenth player problem tied to free agency and the reserve clause.**)

I suspect that the disruption pissed him off more than anything, though, and like a lot of kids who grew up playing baseball, he couldn't understand why people bitched when they got paid to do something a lot people dream about doing.

As for myself, I was never particularly good at baseball. I was never particularly good at any sport, really... which I suspect was something of a disappointment for the old man, who, of his two sons, ended up with not a one who exhibited more than a glancing interest in playing a sport.

But over the years I've grown into a sports fan. And while the sun rises and sets on football season for me, the love of baseball has grown on me. And in Cincinnati, home to one of the oldest teams in baseball, Opening Day is more than the first day of the season. It's a celebration for a city that would rather do anything but celebrate.

My plan was to check out the parade. Affording a ticket to the game was out of the question; and while I still had friends in the city, the ones who might possibly have tickets wouldn't have any spares, and the ones who didn't couldn't afford them anyway. But I figured I could go downtown, take in the insanity, and then retreat back to the burbs where I'm crashing in relative obscurity at my Madre's condominium home.

It was a plan. 

I took the 24 bus downtown, which, because the burbs is considered Zone 2, cost me $2.65 instead of the Zone 1 fare of $1.70. (Both had gone up since I last lived here in 03-05. Consequently, the buses themselves have not improved all that much.) The bus started out relatively empty... just me and three other people, all of whom were going down to see the parade, and one of whom was actually going to stay for the game. The closer it got to downtown, though, the more packed the bus became until I was a wash in a sea of red and white.

I was not decked out in team colors. I had no particular reason for not, other than the fact that I didn't put anything with those colors on when I rolled out of bed.

When I disembarked at Government Square, people were already milling about. Some had come early to lay claim to the best seats along 5th Street for the parade and were sitting at the gutters in lawn chairs and on blankets. On any other day, someone doing that would be taken for a vagrant and summarily punished-- if not by the cops... who continue in a long tradition of harassment, rudeness, and a general apathy towards anyone who doesn't "look" right ... then by the amorally indignant downtown business elite... most of whom flee to the burbs at quitting time; on Opening Day, however, such social rules are overlooked, as in the carnival days of medieval Europe. 

At that time, Carnival was an even when, among other things, lepers and retards, and the mentally ill were elected Kings of the Carnival (which is one of the early roots of our semi-Democratic process and with amazingly similar results) and people could be found copulating in the streets like pagans before the interference of Catholic missionaries.  

Alas, it was too cold downtown for public fucking. And since it was a brisk 55 degrees, there would be next to no chance in the forecast for a storm of drunken topless women. 

Not downtown. And if it was, I'd never point out which is me.
On the upside, the cops seemed to ignore the open container law as long as people put their beer in a brown paper bag -- yet another action that would normally be a sign that you are homeless, shiftless, unemployed, or all three, and therefore not worth being treated with human dignity. 

I tried going to the beer and food bins set up along the edge of Fountain Square, but the lines were never less than 20 or 30 people long and I had no intention of waiting that long in line for warm $5 beer in a plastic cup. Also, I had no desire to be any closer than I had to be to the live band playing; they were OK for a bar cover band. But the mixture of Beach Boys and Soundgarden covers made me slightly nauseous. So I wandered around, bought a hot dog with kraut and mustard from a street vendor, and thought about where might be a good place to stand and see the parade.

[And by the way... and this goes out to all hot dog vendors in downtown Cincy... if you're going to offer sour kraut as a free condiment, IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY will you please be more liberal with your dashing of kraut? Pretty please? A few strands of cooked cabbage on top of  a hot dog does not make for a true dog with kraut. Just a suggestion...]

Since I was downtown, though, and I had some time to kill, I decided to visit Strauss and Company Tobacconist, on Walnut about a third of a block away from 5th Street. Strauss's  was one of those places I used to frequent when I lived in the Nati, and it was a place I missed after I moved. You don't really appreciate what it means to have access to an honest to jeebus tobacconist^ until you don't have it. And YES, I managed to find one in AZ.... but it required me driving to Scottsdale once a week instead of hopping a bus. 

Plus, I just liked Strauss's store blends better.

While I was there I bought an ounce of their Losantiville^^ blend and splurged on some cigarillos^^^ from Holland. After I lit one up, I stepped back out onto the sidewalk and took note of the crowd. It had grown significantly, and there was still 45 minutes until the start of the parade. People were walking up from the river, probably having parked at the Great American Ball Park+. All of the gutter spots were full, and in some places people were standing two or three deep. The cops were beginning to block off the street, and the buses were already being diverted. There was no getting out until after 3:30pm, just in time for the commuter express bus that I planned on taking back to the burbs.

I stood around on the corner of 5th and Walnut, allowing the growing tide of baseball fans and families of fans engulf me. People gathered and crowds on all sides went from 2 or 3 people deep to sometimes 5 or 6 people deep; the crowd eventually seeped out into the intersection. Children sat down in the middle of the street like they were sitting under a tree in the park. I had to keep moving around because I was technically standing at the cross walk. Pretty soon the sidewalks themselves became impassable; the few homeless who were out got pushed into the doorways to make way for out of town fans and people who probably rarely spent more time downtown than it took to drive off of I-75 or 471, take an off ramp, and park at the stadium. 20 minutes until the parade procession was supposed to leave Findaly Market at 1 pm, and people were walking down the middle of 5th Street just to get from one place to another. I could tell from the ebb and flow of red and white around Fountain Square that people were getting set for the parade. 

Then I thought about how long it might take the parade to make the 1.2 mile stretch (that number doesn't take into account any turns or stops in the parade route. And then I decided that I might have a better chance seeing the parade from the television at bar than having to look through the people standing in front of me, nearly all of whom were somehow magically taller than I am.

At that, I broke through, crossed 5th Street, broke through the blockage of people standing there, and made my way up Walnut. At 7th Street I turned right, and then left at Main. When I reached 8th Street, I crossed the street, walked a third of the way down the block to Arnold's... a bar that I used to spend a lot time at when I lived here before.

It was crowded, but not too much. People were milling around, and I figured the back patio was full. I managed to find a seat at the bar. After waiting what seemed like entirely too much time, I was finally served. They changed the taps since I was last there and were now serving 3 brews from the newly re-opened Christian Moerlein Brewery. I tried two of the three: The Northern Liberties IPA and the The OTR Pale Ale. I passed on the Friend of the Irishman Stout for pragmatic purposes -- stout beer isn't something you switch back and forth from. I did, however, try the Roebling Porter, brewed by the Rivertown Brewery, a new (to me) microbrewery and the lager from Listermann Brewing Company -- also a local brewery (and also the Brewmasters Store where I used to go, along with my friend Bret, to buy home brew supplies.)

I also had a shot of Maker's Mark... couldn't be helped.

And though I did watch some of the parade on the very small television in the corner, mostly I thought about how different the crowd at Arnold's was and how I didn't know anyone who worked there and how no one knew me anymore. 

On the upside, the beers were all amazing. Those German roots serve you well, Cincinnati.++

[Thanks for reading. And remember, if you like it,
  1. Pass the link on. Copy and Paste. Go ahead. 
  2. Click the donate button and help keep me traveling. 
  3. Thanks to the generous support of readers and other sympathetic folk, I was able to purchase a Greyhound Discovery Pass, which will allow me to bump around out west unfettered. And thanks (again) to all those whose continued support makes my travel and writing possible.
  4. Also: A brief note on Operation Europe: This plan entails me making it across the pond for an indeterminate amount of time. My plan is to continue traveling around here, growing the blog and including more individual stories along with my travelog and general observations. I plan on doing more of the same in Europe... but it's nice to have an excuse... the gods know I rarely need one, but sometimes customs officials of foreign countries do... I've signed up for an online course that will certify me to teach English as a foreign language. Given my background in education, this should come as a no-brainer.  The next steps include a) obtaining a passport, and b)the cost of a one way ticket. But I have a year or so to work on those things. More on this as it happens and as it approaches.

Thanks again for reading and for your generous support.


*WASP = White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Around the time of WW1, the city fathers decided, as point of blind patriotism and out of fear that people would assume all Cincinnatians were German sympathizers, to erase any hint of the deeply ingrained German Heritage that defines so much of the city's past. Names were changed. Festivals cancelled. Around the late 1980's, it occurred to some that immigrant heritage might be a selling point and that money might be made off remembering the Germanic roots of the city. 

**Reserve Clause: Contractual slavery. Read about it here

^Tobacconist: a purveyor of fine tobaccos, cigars, and accessories. Not to be confused with the corner gas station.

^^Losantiville was the name originally given to the settle that later became Cincinnati. The term is a mash of four terms from four different languages that translates roughly to "the city opposite the mouth of the Licking River."

^^^cigarillos: literally tiny cigars... which means they're hand rolled, the way cigars were meant to be smoked. No filter, no tobacco paper (the shit they make regular cigarettes and mislabeled "little cigars" out of.)

+The Great American Ballpark: After Riverfront Stadium was demolished the new ballpark was named after it's corporate sponsor, The Great American Insurance Company. Not that the Capitalist overthrow of baseball is anything new... because nothing in this country could become "America's Game" unless some fat bastard was making a greasy buck off of it... but something still strikes me ill when I think about it. The new stadium has better seats and makes for a better game experience... though it also meant the city is stuck with Paul Brown Stadium, a wholesale rip off of tax payers by Bengals owner Mike Brown.

++Cincinnati: Comes from Cincinnatus, the name of a Roman Dictator who, surrendered his power back to the people when he felt it was time and returned to be a simple farmer. This is something that no one with political or corporate power in Cincinnati has ever thought to do. Nor will they. Ever.

27 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, Part 2.1 : More Peripatetic Ruminations

This don't look like no expressway to me! - Joliet Jake Blues

Not my brother's car. But I think he sees it this way. In his head.
The fundamental problem with returning is leaving.

After three weeks of trying to put off packing and trying to decide what to do with my stuff, I managed to get my older brother to drive up to corn and gawd country to pack up the few possessions I have then take me and them back to Porkopolis, where all of my books could be stored in the same place for the first time since 2006.

Which, of course, makes me wonder, again, why I KEEP all the books, since I haven't seen most of them except in passing for a while. 

I mean, I carry some reading material with me when I travel... I'll be taking a few different ones when I head back through Kentucky and westward... but I'm going through this process -- yet of again -- of debating my attachment to things I may not see for a while. 

After all... shouldn't someone get something out of them? All they do now is sit in boxes in the rafters of my mom's garage.

But I'm not sure I'm ready to give them up, really. Or maybe I am, if I thought they would be read and enjoyed and not be collecting dust somewhere.

Even for books, though, I didn't have that many to take down to Cincinnati. Three medium-sized boxes, an apple box, and a milk crate. Then there were two other boxes of random stuff, a duffle bag for my clothes, a fishing pole, two portable typewriters, and my cast iron pots.

Don't get me started on the typewriters. It's another one of those things I like. The old manual kind, that make noise and don't forgive mistakes with a damned delete button. You had white out. Later, a correction ribbon. But mostly, you had to get your fingers to do the right goddamned thing. Or you typed the page over. And over. And over.

Yes. I did a lot of that. At first.

Attachment to things in general is one of those issues I don't have. Yes, I like my books. I like to collect rocks and typewriters. Certain objects have certain meaning for me. But I've also let go of a hell of a lot over the years -- books and furniture and appliances and utensils of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. You have to be a bit cut throat when you're moving and have limited money, time, and space. I've found, though, that most things can be replaced.

Because, as some sage or another said, nothing lasts. 

And if I've learned any lessons lately, it's that one.

Which, of course, leads us back to the story wherein my brother drives 7 hours in his Infiniti (aka The Batmobile) from Northern Kentucky (it's still basically Cincinnati, let's be honest; but don't tell his wife. She's convinced otherwise.) to the Northwestern corner of Illinois (that, except for an arbitrary boundary and the will of some very opinionated Western Illinois University fans, would be Iowa.) to pick me and my few remaining possessions up. 

After I approached him about the prospect (aka sent him a polite but younger brotherly text) his first response was

"How much stuff? Will it all fit in my car?"

Fair question. I had sort of hoped he would bring the family SUV. It's not as cool as the Batmobile, but it is more spacious. On the other hand, my sister-in-law has a life, too (she coaches something called Forensics*, which has absolutely nothing to do with corpses) and probably needs the SUV to cart around kids and the bloodless and dismembered bodies of anyone who suggests:
  1. That Harry Potter is lame.
  2. That Twilight is even more lame.
  3. That Johnny Depp is not really a pirate.

I assured him -- because I was almost 99% certain myself -- that everything would fit. After it was all packed and hauled downstairs from the space that had been my Cubby (aka, my writing space) to the summer porch so that it would be easier to load the car, the pile wasn't as big as I thought it might be. 

(For those not in the know, that's an enclosed porch that could double as a room in the summer. You know... before central air. Before air conditioning. Before the electric fan.) 

A few days later he got back to me (via text) asking if there was a hotel in town. I pondered. The two times my mom visited, she stayed at a Super 8 in Savanna, 10 miles away. I mentioned that to him, but I also suspected that he wouldn't want to drive 10 miles after hanging out and doing a bit of drinking. For one, there's nothing else to do in Mount Carroll on a Friday night. For another, I wanted my friends to meet Brian. In the scenario in which I am Sherlock Holmes, he's Mycroft. Not only because he's OLDER but because he's probably one of the smartest people I know. And I say that knowing full well that I have some pretty smart friends. 

Also, in most social situations, people are generally surprised to discover we're related. I often refer to him as "The Clean Shaven, More Successful Parsons."

My mother hates that particular description. Not because he's not both clean shaven (he managed to dodge the gorilla gene) or successful; because he's certainly both. She doesn't like when I describe my brother like that because the implication is that I'm neither clean shaven (I'm not) or nor successful (this depends entirely on your notion of success. I think I'm enormously successful. My old high school guidance counselor might have other ideas.)

I also mentioned that there was a Bed and Breakfast up on the hill near the cemetery, and an older hotel in town, The Hotel Glenview, which some people I know have been refurbishing. The downstairs is a combination of Dabluz, a shop for mostly handmade stuff (my friend Heather Houzenga sells some of her wares there) and The Driftless Area Stillroom Wine and Cheese Shop... which is one of those nice little places no one thought had a chance in a place like Mount Carroll, where cheese is individually wrapped and wine is served in with communion wafers.

After mentioning the Glenview, he asked if there was a bar. (After all, he IS my brother.) I told him no, he would be walking distance to both the bowling alley, and Bella's... as well as two other bars with plenty of local color, if he was so inclined. So he checked it out. Then he texted me back that he reserved a room.

"They know you there," he told me.

"Yes." I replied. "That may not work in your favor though."

* Forensics actually refers to a form of rhetorical argument. It's a combination of theater and classical discourse, most often associated with the legal profession. My sister-in-law, Jonna, is no slouch at an argument... proof positive that she belongs in the family... and her kids won this trophy


which... and this is one of those ways in which the area she lives is VERY MUCH like Kentucky.... will not be displayed at the school because they're too cheap and too focused on boy's athletics to build a proper trophy case. Bozos. Congrats, by the way to her and her kids... one of whom is my niece, Brianna.

15 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Arkansas Men's Social Club, 2.2

[Continued from 2.1]

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

A word or two on the remaining principal characters:

Donner is a contractor who is used to working hard and independently. And like most men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, grew up something of a natural problem solver. Dion is generally thought well of by the other members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club. And he is actually fairly well thought of by Donner; but also like men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, Donner would hardly every say so... unless he was drunk or unless it was some holiday like Christmas, New Years Eve, or Lincoln's Birthday. Tweed (who has not arrived on the scene yet) -- is a retired man whose actual former occupation is unknown by me; but he continues to piddle and work -- as men who are raised to work are wont to do in order to avoid death and boredom. Al -- or Alfonse, which he prefers not to be called -- is an artist, an avid reader of arcane literature,a drinker, and something of a storyteller. Though he is not from these parts, he ended up here as the result of a dozen or so questionable decisions, one of them being a short sighted desire for sobriety. Though he is what he would call an Old Fart, he has an artist's interest life and a much younger man's zeal for women.

Sven was doing a reasonably good job of not showing his concern. One of the things that makes him a good proprietor is his attention to detail, and his need to control as much of the world around him as humanly possible. But he's also lived enough to know that there's really very little anyone can control except those things a man creates for himself... and that even that, sometimes, is difficult. The other advantage Sven has is that he grew up in the restaurant business and so has learned to curb his need to control and maintain against the understanding that one way or the other, sometimes a square peg really does fit in a round hole.

Every once in a while, if you learn to loaf and invite your soul, as the American Bard* once wrote, you will see history in action. Thus, if you want to understand the true genius behind the Constitutional Convention, The Treaty at Versailles, The League of Nations, and every family cook out since the invention of the gas grill, you need to watch  a group of men try and decide on how to do something that could be easier than any of the parties involved are making it.

Harry, who's truck would see the most immediate damage, wasn't concerned.

"Are you sure the tailgate can handle the weight?" Slim asked. "I don't think it will."

Harry shrugged. "Eh. All I know is if we can't get this thing out of my truck, I got a new refrigerator."

Everyone laughed -- Sven with a tad more discomfort (Not because he thought Harry would actually drive off the new appliance, but because the thought itself secretly terrified him.) -- and the group of them proceeded toss out ideas and considerations and provisos.

The  group agreed to the proposition that Harry back his truck up to the Kraft Building door, though the precise distance was briefly and bitterly debated. One line of thought -- suggested by who I don't remember -- was that Harry could simply back up as close as he could get that would allow head room for the box to be tipped backwards, and that we could all, with the number of back involved, carefully lift the appliance out and down out of the truck bed and onto ground. This was rejected almost immediately because no one wanted to be the person responsible for dropping the thing after so much had gone into getting it out of the semi. (No one mentioned, rightly since it was immediately understood, the likelihood that one more backs would be injured, with potentially permanent implications.)

At this point, Tweed showed up, bringing with him his own brand of wisdom, drive and an easy going temperament.


The group then tried to explain -- all at once -- why that would be a bad idea.


Sven and several others then answered that it wasn't generally a good idea to put a commercial grade refrigerator on its side. To be perfectly honest, I had the same thought, since it looked like maybe trying to tip the behemoth appliance combined with the height of the truck made it too tall to simply tip into the coffee shop -- ramps or no ramps.

When I'm faced with these situations -- that is, where I have the option to either assert myself as an Expert In All Things**, or to sit back and wait it out -- I often play it safe and wait for the dust to settle. This isn't due so much to a lack of confidence in my ideas as it is a realization I arrived at long ago:

I'm essentially a one trick pony.

Emerson warned us about what would happen in a society where the division of labor is reduced to giving one person training in one specific area in The American Scholar (1837). According to Emerson, only a society of well-rounded citizens can truly be free and democratic. Additionally, Henry David Thoreau pointed out in Walden (1854)  that the division of labor removed people from a sense of connectedness with the world and results in the concentration of wealth in the very few.

I'm a writer. Part of being a writer means that I've held plenty of other jobs at various times. I won't run down the entire list now. But I haven't exactly spent all of the last 20 years cloistered away in libraries and academic halls.  But that's part of it... and part of trying to be a better all around person. And while I may not be useful or handy -- I don't build, plumb, or repair with any aptitude (Though I can follow directions. That's what you learn in college, kids!) Being a writer also means that, in addition to loafing and inviting my soul, I also observe, and sometimes eavesdrop on conversations. (My daughter refers to this as being a "creeper." To me it's just plain ol' People Watching, which I learned from my Dad... who, while he wasn't a writer, was a grand talker and student of the human condition.***)

So I remained silent, prepared to offer my help in whatever form might have been needed.^  And I waited. And I watched.

Tweed offered to run and get roller casters that could be used to roll the box once it was ground level. He made this offer three or four times, and finally took the silence of the others as an affirmation. Before he left, though, he did make one more suggestion.


Sven reacted to that suggestion with silent panic and well-contained terror, hidden more or less efficiently by a rapid shaking of his head. Slim and Harry also shook their heads, and Donner pointed out that while cutting it out of the box might allow for more space, it would also increase the risk of hurting the stainless steel.

"WE COULD JUST BE CAREFUL," Tweed pointed out. His attempt to explain and qualify his idea was ignored.

By this time, Dion had left to go get the ramps that Donner insisted wouldn't work. And in the meantime, the members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club considered the possibility of using a different door.

The other door is just as heavy; but it's at the top of 5 or 6 concrete steps and was actually closer to the kitchen.

"I can just pull up on the sidewalk," Harry said.

"Won't that hurt your truck?" Slim asked.

"Why?" Harry answered. "It's a truck."

"Yes," Sven said. "But it's a truck with an additional 500 pounds in the back."

"He's also worried that the fridge might tip over," Donner added.

Sven agreed.

The new door idea was quickly discarded and the men went about trying to figure out how to get the appliance down without hurting the appliance, the tail gate, or the hardwood floor.

Dion soon arrived with the ramps. When Donner saw them he said, "Oh, you meant those. Those might work."

About that time Tweed returned with the coasters, which, upon seeing them, the other men agreed might be useful as well. It was then decided that the men could use the lifting straps to edge the appliance off the truck bed, over the tailgate, and onto the ramps, which were designed to hold the weight of a car.

Also around this time, Al showed up for his mid-day constitutional. He arrived about the same time each afternoon, carrying some book or another -- almost always a different book from the previous day, and almost always with a title like The Secret, Sacred Wisdom of Conifers Planted By the Knight's Templar. Al is a painter. A long time ago graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art, he is, he admits, not one of those  painters whose work is "the next thing" in the development of  art. But he's also a natural talker, a copious and respectable drinker, and a reader of esoteric and unknown books -- all three of which make him fine company for me, most of the time. Like me, he stood back and watched. He made some small talk, and had an amused smile on his face. (Like most artists and semi-barbarous old coots, Al understands the absurd when he sees it. Also, his status as an older gentleman and mind as a useless scribbler necessarily excluded us from being drafted for hard labor.)

Donner and Dion eyeballed the ramp and the appliance to make sure it would sit on the ramps correctly; Harry, Slim, Sven, and Fred -- who up to this point played a purely supervisory role -- each grabbed an end of a lifting strap... two of which had been snaked through the pallet from one side to the other. Fred picked up his end, shouldering the strap with an resigned expression befitting Sisyphus.

After a brief count, a silent prayer, and a hope for backs stronger than their combined years, the men carefully lifted the appliance and moved it in line with the ramps. This meant putting the weight of the appliance on the tailgate... but like the marvel of modern Mexican manufacture, it held.

From there, Sven, Harry, Slim, Donner, and Dion managed to slide the appliance down the ramps and through the door -- there was still plenty of headroom left between the top of the box and the bottom of the upper door frame -- and in. At that point, they again lifted it just enough to get Tweed's coasters underneath... which made it easier to roll across the hardwood floor.

Getting the appliance into the refrigerator was a simpler process but had much more fanfare. Initially there was some concern that it wouldn't fit through the door -- either horizontally or vertically. So after some eyeballing and some tape measuring, it was decided that:

  1. it had to come out of the box, and
  2. it had to come off the pallet.

Upon hearing that, Tweed snapped out his box cutter and went to work with the same glee that a child has when attacking wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Sven looked mildly concerned that Tweed would scratch the stainless steel; but the cardboard and Styrofoam fell quickly. Fred picked up the cardboard, joking that he would use it to make a new fortress of solitude. No one, as I recall, tried to claim the packing material.

Donner and Slim then got down on their hands and knees to see how difficult it would be to lift the appliance off the pallet. The commercial refrigerator had wheels of its own, and they weren't bolted or tied into the pallet at all -- which was good news.

The only real bad news was Slim's plumber ass... which all of us agreed was a crime against nature.

Eventually, though, they manged to get the appliance off the pallet -- while managing NOT to swish anyone's fingers -- and into the kitchen.

Dion, who stood back to watch at this point -- which was really the only reasonable thing to do -- said to me "Seems like they made this harder than it needed to be."

I agreed. "Yep. But it's that way with most things."

Al was standing with us as well. I told him I had been working on a whole different blog, but that I now felt compelled to throw it out and write a different one.

He only gave me one piece of advice. "When you do," he said, "say it happened in Arkansas. After all no one would believe this could happen HERE."

*Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892). The poem referred to above can be found here...and in a thing once called a book entitled Leaves of Grass.
** To proclaim oneself an Expert In All Things is the natural-born right of every man... just as it is the natural inclination of everyone else to demand proof on an uncomfortably regular basis, and the natural right of women to assume we're full of shit.
*** The latter is virtually a prerequisite for being a writer. The former, while not a necessary for being a writer, helps in getting free drinks.
^It wasn't.

[Thanks for reading. My road plans are laid out for the next month or so. I'm headed back out of Mount Carroll on 3/24 and going to Cincinnati to stow my home goods away. 

  • Then, a brief road trip with my Mom back out to Virginia to visit the Kid.  
  • Then, I'll be doing another run through Kentucky, via Greyhound, stopping over on Willow Drive for a promised return,
  • and through Louisville to visit with another college chum and to catch some pre-Derby races at Churchill Downs.

From Louisville (pronounced Lu'vlle) my tentative plans are to visit Hannibal, Missouri, childhood home to one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain. After that, points west.

And if you REALLY like what you're reading, remember:

  • You can share the link. (Go ahead. I don't mind.)
  • You can click the donate button and contribute to the travel fund, use to contribute via paypal, or click use the tip function on Open Salon.  (Please? What if I promise to visit? What if I promise NOT to visit??)

And if you HAVE contributed... Thank you.  If I was there, I'd kiss you. Ok, maybe not a kiss. Maybe a hug. Or, if you prefer, a strong handshake. 

Seriously... thanks.]

07 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness, Intermezzo: Regarding The Peripatetic Peregrination

The problem with traveling is that it's addictive. At least it is for me. My time back in Mount Carroll is nice, and it's good to see friends. But the itch has kicked into hyper-drive. Again. The full body sensation is a disconcerting experience I liken to an asthma attack. 

(And yes, I know of what I speak. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 5 and dealt with it until I was 18, when I finally outgrew it.)

One of the things I realized on this last 6 weeks out is that I am my most content when I'm mobile. Please note, I did not use the term happy. There's a  large gulf of difference between happiness and contentedness.The former is a term describing a temporary state of being based on short term emotions and the release of certain chemicals in the brain -- which can be physiological or imbibed, snorted, or injected. The latter describes a deeper, more fundamental state of being that remains after the chemical/hormonal rush of happiness fades. (And it always fades.)

And while I'm still getting things lined up, planned, and taken care of, some evidence of future forward momentum has occurred...

which, while it doesn't completely still the itch, does help. Enormously.

For one thing, my new rucksack arrived today. 

Easier to carry, and will hold a bit more. BOO-YAH! And yes. It's blue. Deal with it.

For another, I've made part of my travel plans... which, as of yet, do not include me breaking the Mississippi River Barrier. 

First things first: I'm working on getting my stuff out of the house on Pumpkin Hill and down to Cincinnati. This way, all of my books can be in the same place for the first time in 7 years. 

After that, I've decided to take a road trip  (driving) with my dear sweet Ma back to Virginia to visit my singular progeny and bona filia, Stella. This time, the busy child will be on Spring Break. This time, too, dear sweet Ma is springing for better accommodations in Virginia Beach... which is on the more attractive side of Chesapeake Bay. 

Once mi Madre is back, ensconced safe and sound in the Queen City, I will be heading down to Kentucky for a promised return visit to Willow Drive and my friends, George and Laura. 

And after that, I'm planning a short trip through Louisville to visit college chum Amanda -- where I'll meet her hubby, enjoy her amazing culinary skills, maybe take in a horse race or two, and fine tune my plan to break through on the Great Mississippi River Barrier and head on into the Western Lands.

(Thanks to Amanda Connor (nee Hay) for her gracious donation to the travel fund.)

[Thanks for reading... I'll be hitting the road again soon... VERY soon. Not soon enough for some, I'm sure... likely those here who saw my leaving as some grand sign of things to come... like blind local media and a return to the usual graft and nepotism that makes county politics here so great.

If you're enjoying this at all... or if you have... please contribute to the travel fund. You can also use the Tip feature on, or go here to buy a dirt cheap copy of my short story collection, Living Broke

And don't be afraid to pass the link on... really. Your friends will thank you for it. Or disown you. Either way, you win.]

21 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, Part 1.2: The Chaotic Columna Ceruluia (Cont.)

New York has a trip-hammer vitality which drives you insane with restlessness if you have no inner stabilizer.
-- Henry Miller 

The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme—myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme:  -- Walt Whitman

When I found Steve, he was standing right in front of the gate, facing it with his back toward me, waiting. It had been a few years since I'd seen him,  but I recognized him instantly. In his winter coat and pointy winter beanie, at a distance he looks something like an elf;  his small bearded features lend dimension to the description, but so too does his general demeanor. He is neither nervous, nor impatient. He is just standing there, waiting, watching, expecting. Standing, like I said in my previous post, "as if he has always been standing there primordial, separate from the passage of time, as if the Earth and the whole of  The Port Authority had risen up around and engulfed him without his even noticing" .  

I called his name three times, but he didn't turn until I was nearly up on him. If it were anyone else, I would say he was simply conditioned against the noise of city life (Which is Considerable); but I really think that, owing to the way he simply lives in his own space, regardless of where his, and quietly mediates his way through the world like a permanent visitor, trying to harm no one, hoping that no one harms him. 

He was glad to see me, and Susan was glad we found one another. He asked whether I wanted to see some of the city or go home; but I was tired from traveling and a little hungry. So I said I'd rather go back to his and Susan's place, if that was okay.  So we headed for the subway.

Now: to understand New York, you must understand the subway. And to understand the subway, you must appreciate that it is a system based almost entirely on chaos and absolute democracy.

I took my lead from Steve, being as I was in his city; I assumed he knew his way around -- or at least, how to get home from The Port Authority. Of course, I wasn't taking certain things into consideration:

  1. No one who lives in New York goes to The Port Authority unless they're taking a bus out of town, buying drugs, or trolling the restrooms for anonymous sex on the down low; and
  2. The only possible reason Steve would have to be there is waiting for a country bumpkin techno-hobo, who, like him, has a sometimes questionable sense of direction and is easily lost in his own thoughts.

First things, first, though. Before I could slink around under the city streets first I had to buy a Metro Pass. Travel and the cheap ass motel in Norfolk and spending a bit too much at an Irish Pub in D.C. with my friend Eric had diminished my funds substantially.

My travel plans through back through the Midwest have been plotted and paid for, however, and I have already announced the date of my imminent return to see friends, tie up loose ends and plan for more travel. My plans are to go south and west eventually going to the West Coast to check out life on the Left Coast a bit more closely.

I knew I had about $17 left, so when I approached the Metro Card Vending Machine I looked for the lowest amount I could put on the card that would still be useful, at least for a day. [Note about New York City Subway Metro Card Vending Machines: I'm sure they all start out any given 24 hour period in perfect working and vending condition. BUT THEY DON'T STAY THAT WAY.]  The machine I approached would no longer sell single ride passes. Each time you walk through the gate to enter the subway platform, it costs you $2.25. Now it's possible to catch multiple lines once you've entered, so it's not necessarily $2.25 every time you ride. And according to Steve's wife, Susan, the New York City Subway is so well organized that it puts most other public transit systems in the country to shame... particularly Chicago, a place for which she has little affection.

Probably has something to do with the fact that she grew up around there.

NYC Subway System Map
I put 10 bucks on a metro card. I figured that while some walking would be involved, that Steve and Susan probably lived near a subway entrance. I knew they didn't have a car anymore, having fully embraced the New York urban lifestyle. 

Steve checked his Metro Card twice because he didn't have enough on there to ride. Then he approached the same machine I purchased my card from. Standing back and watching Steve interact with the world is, in many ways, a cultural anthropologist's dream.  And for some reason, it reminded me of the movie Brazil.

After a few minutes of standing in front of the machine, trying to feed it actual money, he walked over and told me it wasn't taking his money. He wanted to find an attendant -- which, he said, were there the last time he was at the Port Authority. So we went back into the station to the information booth. The woman in the booth was busy trying to communicate in English with a tiny Far Eastern girl who's English was probably as bad as the woman's was, only for different reasons. One of them was from another country. The other was probably a survivor of the New York City Public School System. After a couple of minutes of waiting, Steve asked the policeman wearing a riot vest where the nearest metro card attendant was, since the machine would not take his money.

The guard looked perplexed. I could only assume that underground air was affecting him, or maybe he was dreaming of pepper spraying attractive Wall Street Occupiers as a way to heat up his sex life. Then he said there weren't any attendants and told Steve he had to purchase his Metro Card through one of the machines.

So we went back and I suggested that he try another machine. That one seemed to work. Then we entered the turnstiles that led to the subway platform, and he stopped dead in his tracks.

"Let me think," he said. "I know how to get home, but I'm not quite sure."

While we wait, a few notes about New York City Subway platforms.

The first thing I noticed is that the general ambiance of the MTA subway platform is actually... surprisingly... much grimier than on television. It wasn't horrible. No disgusting smells, no bums urinating on the third track, no pickpockets. No one was especially rude, either. As a matter of fact, it was almost the opposite. No one was friendly. But no one was an asshole. Now, it could be because it was a weekend. 

Susan later explained to me that post 9/11 New York was a different place in many ways; Steve agreed, saying it was very different than when he lived here in the 1970's.  People, they told me, were just a little bit more aware, a bit more polite. People didn't generally rush the subway train doors when they opened anymore; Susan said people had offered her their seats more than once and that she had seen numerous examples of basic kindness while riding the subway. Steve agreed, half-joking that the whiteness of his hair helped as well.

Steve said he THOUGHT we were on the correct platform, and that the subway was going the right direction. We stood there for a few minutes, waiting for the E Train to Queens. When it stopped, the conductor stuck his head out the narrow window to look behind and make sure they're not going to be in the way of the next train and to make sure no one was blocking the doors. Steve spoke to him briefly, probably asking if we were boarding the right train. The conductor nodded noncommittally; so we boarded and found a place to stand and hold on.

It's important to either hold on to something, lean against the side, or sit. The ride is smooth, for rail, but it's bumpy because of the rail and because of the slight turns it has to make, and the stops and starts do require some balance ... which I was having trouble with because of my satchel. [NOTE TO SELF: GET A BACKPACK.] 

So we rode along for a bit. Before the first stop, though, he started looking around; I could tell he wan't sure we were going the correct direction. Right before the first stop, he asked another passenger if the train was going to Queens. The passenger, who was not at all sure he wanted to talk to anyone... but who was unwilling to be rude... told Steve the train we were on was headed towards The World Trade Center.

(That he called it The World Trade Center struck me as odd. Was it habit? Some grief/denial strategy?)

We got off at the next stop. We stood there for a few minutes, Steve trying to decide whether the train was indeed going the wrong direction, or whether we needed to make our way to the platform going the opposite direction. On the other side of the turnstiles, there was a booth with a MTA Attendant inside. Steve was going to go ask her about which train we needed to be on. He asked if I wanted to wait in case we really were heading the right direction; but I still had faith in Steve's sense of the place he lived and exited the turnstiles with him.

Turns out we were going the wrong direction, which meant going up a few flights of stairs to the next platform.

More on subway platforms: the subway feels like a world unto itself. Music... sometimes piped in, sometimes by live musicians trying to earn a few bucks... could be heard in between the rhythm of the rattling trains. Kiosks selling newspapers, magazines, and cold drinks were open. People milling around, nearly all of them on the way to somewhere. There are scads of beautiful women here, by the way. Lots of walking, and a smoke-free city (which I object to on principle)... not to mention where I was, I'm sure, was an entry exit location for people who work/live/play in Manhattan.

After making our way upstairs and waiting for the E train -- this one REALLY going the right direction -- we  got on the train and rode to the correct station in Queens, where we exited and walked to his and Susan's apartment.

As someone who rides a lot of public transportation, and has ridden it in enough places to be able to compare, I have to admit, the New York City subway isn't that bad... at least... in my limited experience. One of the things you notice very quickly is that the subway absolutely egalitarian. I'm sure the very wealthy folks and those who are claustrophobic or who are formerly obsessed fans of that miserable show, Sex in the City (link omitted deliberately) and believe you have take a taxi everywhere in order to be cool don't ride the subway often; but the mixture of people, ranging from tailored and fashion forward to dirt poor, from post-millennial mod to goth to hipster to hippie-go-lucky to conservative casual makes for a good cross section view of one part of the city... the area between downtown and Queens. It's all public space and everyone has to mediate it, one way or the other.

Or get ripped off by cab. Or be dumb enough to drive a car.

As someone who, as I mentioned, has no real context for understanding New York, the subway was a better introduction than most. 

And my pass assures me I will ride it again... at least two more times.

At this point, I need to thank Noah S. Kaplowitz and Rebecca Fitkin Jones doe their generous donation. Although Kap wanted me to make sure and paint him as an asshole, I cannot, in good conscience. The good news is, I don't have to, since he does quite a fine job on his own, without my assistance.

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to and donating to THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT. If you DO decide to donate, I will mention you in the blog. Promise. 
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. When I go to Boston, I'm riding a Bolt Bus... which owned, or is in partnership with Greyhound. Any single guy will tell you... if you can't get the girl you want, go for the friend. You just never know.