Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amtrak. Show all posts

20 September, 2019

from Field Notes from 26 Aug 2019: Squeeze me home, Ohio Valley heat






Ride the Cardinal east
to the mountains, watch
the first Autumn wings
brush the trees

Losantiville – The train rolled in more or less on time. Actually, a few minutes early (!). Got out to Mom’s from The Halls of Justice* in an Uber. The Uber driver got turned around because, he said, he didn’t know the train still ran out of the Union Station. Yes,  I said. It still does. For now.




Land of the Seven Hills, a ravaged and rewritten map
overnight and early morning hills dotted with lights
illuminating dreams, erasing stars.

It’s been raining here. It’s been raining at home. I have to remember there’s no point in worrying. It rains whether I worry about it or not.

Yesterday’s rain rivulets
Hug the elephant ear leaves
Grieving the storm’s absence.

Visiting George and Laura and Mike and Liz was good. It had been more than a while since I saw Mike and Liz and it always does my heart good to see them. I think if I wasn’t worried that they would get tired of me, and if I could have Amanda with me,  I could travel and visit friends all year. What other real wealth could there be?  Maybe this is why both freedom of movement and connections with others are what fascists attack first.

I’m a man blessed with itchy feet and many friends. In every way that matters, I am the wealthiest of men, the king of infinite space.

___________________________________________________________
* The Union Station in Cincinnati was the model for the Hall of Justice for the old Super Friends cartoon from the 1980's.

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08 April, 2019

From Field Notes, 1 April 2019: Out of The Abiding Place

Somewhere east of Libby, Montana. Woke up to first light in my mountains. Rocks stretch out and up, lifting the sky like I cup Amanda's breasts sometimes when we sleep. -- like holding a jacket open for the sun to wear, with a pattern of clouds and rain drops crystalized in suspended animation.

Thinking about Portland and about the way ahead. All of it. There are two states in which I feel most myself -- like I am living the life I was born to live -- when I am in motion, writing; and when I am still, in Amanda's arms. Every other state of being is the space between that I traverse. Geography is a myth we've believed into reality. States of Being are the only states that matter. And if I had to nail down what to call this, I'd call it a perma-state of transition. Moving between motion and rest. Between travel and her arms. Roads and rail road tracks are the paths we make, all treading in the same direction. 

Montana is an ocean of green -- endless waves of evergreens and white oak, slowly waking grass. The mist and snow offer it a supernatural aura. The place has always been magic to me. Like Menifee. Like the river. All sacred. All dirty. All beauty. All savage.

Lift up old mountain.
The sun needs a coat.
The clouds portend
of beautiful things.

Roll on train, through
this sacred place.
I will wander amongst the mist
some other day.



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26 March, 2019

Field Notes, 24 March 2019: Beautifully Savage

[Indianapolis:]

Part of me wanted to miss the bus, or for something to go wrong in Louisville just so I could have one more minute with her. It's always like this. Even when I'm compelled to go, there is such a desire to stay, to damn the consequences. And indeed, there would be consequences. I've seen that before, too.

Some aspects of every trip are the same. Indy and the buzzing lights. Chicago Union Station and the great, depressive and beautiful vacuum of that city. Longing and loneliness. And the obligation to write it all down, to somehow make it all make sense, if only for myself, but maybe -- just maybe -- for some other poor asshole out there who is equally torn apart by a need to Go and to See. Someone else who is tortured by the desire to stay, to leave the road for someone else.

At the 2:45AM ticket check I was again asked about a confirmation number. I'm starting to feel punked.

Buzzing overhead lights
and a four hour layover.
Thoughts of you make me wonder
why it feels so necessary
to be anywhere you're not.

[Near Chicago Union Station]

Of course the ridiculous worries about the "confirmation number" were unfounded. The desk worker in Louisville was clearly mistaken/misinformed/harried. The security guard at the Indy station was probably just being a dick because he picked up on my displeasure about the ticket check. They always state the same legal caveat "I am not biased and will check anyone regardless of what they look like." This gives them the blankt authority to racially and economically profile anyone they want without fear of the guard or the company being sued. And naturally, there are any number of ways to abuse tacit authority at 3AM in a Midwestern bus station.

Power is so predictable.
Give authority to a beaten man
and he will beat anyone down
with savage impunity --
in particular, whoever he blames.


Canal Street Entrance, Chicago Union Station
[In the Great Hall, Union Station, Chicago]

The Great Hall is gorgeous. The lights, the statues, the columns and marble staircases. A mish-mash of Greco-Roman with Digital Age minimalism forced into the crevices. Ornately wrought columns and digital screens. Nothing is so American as our nostalgia for the past that never was -- the carefully and assiduously reconstructed one we write ourselves into as the denouement.

Beautiful as they are
all our grand monuments
harken back to a past
reconstructed from afar
so it necessarily includes
us, whether we belong or not.




[Harmonee Ave/Glenview, IL]

Loaded for bear
more people than seats
our steel horse barrels westward
breaching the ragged edge
in search of soul, Big Sky and light.

[Flooded plains outside Columbus, Wisconsin]

Downed and drought
are the only cycles
anyone can really count on.
Everything else is Faith.

[All that's left is the thaw]

Snow lingers west of the Wisconsin Dells. Dirty, tired looking stuff. Knee high piles along the outside
St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN - Union Depot (MSP)
edges and corners of muddy unplanted cornfields. Tiny blankets wrapped around the base of young sycamores and trimming along creek beds. It's all over but the melting here. 


The sun broke out for setting
just east of La Crosse --
piles of dirty snow like shrugged off clothes
lay around the edges
of soon-to-be plowed fields.

[Black River, WI]

Broken up ice islands
The waters are high.
We're coming upon the Mississippi
to breach the great boundary
into Minnesota.

Every time I travel I'm awe struck by how beautiful and how beautifully savage the landscape is.


[First 'Air Break'/ Flood Fight]

Chatted with a woman name Kristy and a man named Dean, both from Fargo. They were strangers to each other but both going home. When they found out they were both from the same place, they started talking about the 'Flood Fight.' Every year when the snow melts, people volunteer to make sandbags to stave off the inevitable flooding of the North River. Dean is volunteering for the first time in several years. Kristy volunteers every year, but her job allows her to volunteer and get paid for it. Dean said they are calling for 1 million sand bags this year. Kristy said they are expecting floods about 41 feet, worse than 1997.

All I said was that water always runs down river eventually. All I thought about was how much we don't need the water to rise anymore at home. But that's life -- it's all connected and everything runs downstream eventually.

-MKP
~

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01 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots - On (Not) Finding Los Angeles

[16 December 2018: Eastbound, somewhere home side of Winslow]

The train passed into mountain time overnight. Now we're in the high desert part of Arizona, rolling towards New Mexico, closer to home. 

People are starting to wake up and file into the observation car. The view is gorgeous; the sun started to just peak out, a little west of Winslow. I've been awake off and on since about 3:30, which means I slept pretty well for train travel. I travel coach because while the idea of a sleeper car appeals, the cost ends up being the same as flying and is more difficult to justify. The cheapskate in my skull gets in my way more and more as I age, but it's really only for large amounts. He's perfectly willing to nickel and dime all day, especially when it involves books. And since I stopped drinking, the cheap bastard in my skull is willing to embrace the odd and more than occasional cappuccino. But I can't seem to get the idea of a sleeper car, even though my primary argument for train travel is that it's more civilized than air and more genteel than the grey dog over long distances.

I qualify that, of course.  I take the bus from Louisville to Cincinnati on the regular. But if there was a train, I'd probably take that, even if it costs a bit more and tell the cheap bastard in my head to go to hell.

Although I made my goal of being more open and social during my time in LA, I did not really get to find the bones of Los Angeles. I understand that this ontological distinction probably marks me as a rube, or, at the very least, an provincial hack. But it does seem to be a city where there is so much of everything that finding the real Los Angeles is a bit challenging. 

All great cities operate on a philosophy like 3 Card Monte. It's not about finding what's real; it's about never really finding it. Louisville isn't any different. The basic idea of a Tourist Economy is a simple one: distract them with glitter so no one sees the gloom. GPS makes this easier, as entire neighborhoods can be erased without having to start one bulldozer. After all, the powers-that-be don't want total strangers to go and see where the old bones show through.

But that's not what I want to see when I'm out in LA. I want to see the old bones of Los Angeles. I think I catch glimpses of it, in the same way you catch glimpses of nipple during a burlesque show. It's difficult to tell, though, if what I see are the bones or the statistically acceptable brutality of a city that is so expensive to live in that it's losing 100 people a week.

I stopped trying to count the number of homeless folks and camps I saw, just riding around between class and my motel in Culver City. In most cases, they are tucked away, or on public land that has no other use -- which is a good thing, because if it did have use, those people would be pushed off. The camps one block from the train station right on the sidewalk, are probably the most brazen. An entire litle corner just on Alameda had a small community of three tents, and a man was flying nearby. Just far enough away from Union Station not to make it in any of the brochures or website or prime time television show. The homeless in LA are like the palm trees. They're like the excessive number of cars on the 405. They're like random movie star sightings at restaurants that are all ambience and with no street parking.  They're like these small towns rolling outside the windows of the observation car -- a passing curiosity quickly forgotten when the next scene is pulled in our vision.

Barreling through the sunrise
desert dust perma-frost in all directions
like the rolling empty corn fields
stretched ahead on the other side of the river.





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28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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26 June, 2018

All along the multiverse /Traversing the Big Empty, Part 1 (A Nation of Consequences)

[East of Gallup, NM/ 26 June 2018]  
Unless you travel America along the ground, you don't really get a sense of how large a place it is.  Hopping airport to airport does give you a certain view of the size of things. People in transit make for some of the best people watching you can find -- and people watching is very nearly the best free entertainment there is. But crawling over the thin shell of the earth is really the only way to get a sense of size. People who have driven cross country will attest to this. Geography looks a lot less imposing on a map -- or on GPS to use the parlance of these digital times -- than it does in person.
I'm certain I've written somewhere, sometime before... probably on the old American Re:Visionary blog... about how our mode of transportation alters our perception of geography and changes how we look things. If you've ever tried to follow (what used to be) those blue lines on the map -- those two lane state routes that will take you everywhere the interstate does and more -- you begin to get a sense of how the interstate system forever altered not only how we look at this wide country we label The United States., but changed the actual geography... not only because of the landscape that was demolished, altered, or sliced up to make room for interstates, but the towns that cropped up or shriveled up and died because of the shift in traffic patterns.  And if you think this is only a byproduct of the modern transportation age, I would encourage you to look at the long and storied history of the dirty, sacred river the title of this blog refers to: The Ohio River.
Traveling by train (I'm pretty sure I've written before, too) is still by far the most genteel way to travel. What I tend to observe when people have difficulty traveling by train … or mass transit in general, including the old grey dog... is that they bring faulty expectations to the experience. You end up cramped together with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different biases, different languages. You have to share bathroom facilities. You have to share common areas like the cafĂ© car, the dining car, the observation car, and the aisle. The rules are mostly etiquette and common sense -- though I have traveled enough back and forth across this turtle of a continent that I honestly question whether both etiquette and common sense have become so unfashionable as to be as mythical a concept as "truth, justice, and the American Way."
If you know me moderately well you know my thoughts on the use of laws. If you don't know me that well (and welcome, by the way!) then I will explain by paraphrasing Ammon Hennacy*:
Good people don't need them and bad people don't follow them, so what good are they?
I'll go one step further by quoting myself*:
Etiquette and Fine Art run the world.
One of the things you learn traveling is that laws and statutes mean far less in maintaining a civilized community than simple etiquette. While there are people in world who are consequence driven, I find that eventually people who exist in a consequence-driven frame of mind buckle under the yoke and bit.  On this particular train trip, for example, a guy is about to get tossed off the train in Albuquerque because in spite of all the signage and multiple warnings given, he simply can't wait for a fresh air break to smoke. I mean, I get it. As a smoker, I'm sympathetic to the nicotine urge. And yes, I'm sure it would be healthier to quit, but honestly people who tend to say that 1. have never smoked and  2. have never read any 12 step literature or understand the nature of addiction. In other words... yes, we're addicts.  Move on.
That being said... I also understand there are reasons why smoking is prohibited on trains and buses.  I also understand that the schedule takes priority over my nicotine addiction. This is something I signed on for when I bought my train ticket. It's part of the social contract. That's why, when we do get a fresh air break, I TAKE IT. Even in New Mexico, a state that has never been kind to me. Never. Ever.
We tend to overlook the importance of social contracts because we have decided that it is better to live in a country of prescribed laws than a community of shared understanding. That's because laws are easier. We mark our participation by whether we vote for the yahoos who are supposed to have our interests at heart, not really understanding the fact that the system, by its very nature, either burns out any evidence of actual altruism... if, in fact, politicians can feel something like altruism. We want laws to keep things fair... which is to say, we want laws to ensure that we keep whatever stuff we thing is ours. We want laws to maintain the peace while we stockpile guns for our own personal protection. We want law. But law is consequence driven. Which means, at some point, even the most law abiding citizen will break under the yoke and bit, causing those consequences to kick in.
Which is to say: if all we are is a nation of consequences and not conscious, it's no wonder we're in such trouble.
And we are in trouble. It doesn't take a long train ride to figure that one out.
[Continued in Part 2]



15 July, 2013

Williston Semi-Denied: Notes From Minneapolis

Trying to make Art is a lot like building a fire. You spend your time trying to recreate the effect of a bolt of lightening, usually without true success. - From Travel Journal


Though my time in Williston was far more brief than I wanted, and I was not able to camp in Glacier National Park, this jaunt west was not wasted.

First of all, travel is never wasted. There's something about being on the move that unfurls something in me, loosens a knot that does not loosen any other way. Momentum brings my nature rhythms back in time in a way that few things do. Travelling sharpens my perspectives and gives me an even deeper appreciation for the wealth of love I have in my life -- it enables to better appreciate the nuances of my life when I am stationary while at the same time feeding my addiction to a certain amount of movement.

Second of all, the real stuff of travel is not when things go according to plan. Like in the rest of life, the real stuff of travel happens outside the scope of an itinerary.

I was able to satisfy some requirements of my trip to Williston. Drinking in the lounge at the Travel Host Motel, I listened to a 72 year old oil field worker named Larry. Larry looked and spoke like he was chiseled out of the very Earth from which he extracted his living. He said he worked 7 days a week, and rarely took any time off. Apparently at some point he took enough time off to have a family, because he has 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. 

(He didn't mention how many children he had. From what I know of grandparents, this is not at all unusual. Once the version 2.0's and 3.0's are popped out, the 1.0's are generally nothing more than baby transportation. He didn't mention his wife, either, except to say that he only when home when he had time off and had no choice.)

"These kids," Larry grumbled loudly. "They work five days and think they're being tortured!" If he'd been outside, I think he would have punctuated the statement by spitting on the ground. He said it like he had, many,many, many,many times. 

The influx of people into Williston has created not only unusual National attention -- I missed Larry The Cable Guy by a matter of days -- but has put added pressure on what is still a limited infrastructure. Yes, there's all kinds of new construction... mostly rental apartments. But according to Pat, a cab driver, unless you already owned a place before the boom, "You're screwed!"

Rents increased, says Pat from $300-$500 a month to $1,000-$2,500 FOR THE SAME SPACE.

Pat complained that even with the population explosion... she claims closer to 60,000 between the people who live there, the folks who come in to work the oil fields, and "the foreigners who move here to work in the fast food restaurants"... there's still nothing to do in spite of the traffic being a goddamn nightmare. "There's not even a mall," she scoffed. Pat also complained about the absence of a McDonalds.

But, with a conservative estimate of 50 years worth of black gold to suck out of the Bakken Formation, I assured her that somebody, sometime, would build a strip mall. They might even get a K-Mart or a Ross, Dress For Less.

She was not too convinced. But then, Pat was born and raised in Williston, and in spite of there being nothing to do, is still there. Maybe the only thing worse than things not changing is the inevitability that they will.

I also got to meet another writer, Lexi. 


She was going through town,too, visiting the area and writing about the people she meets. She writes a blog called Katwalk for culturekitten.com. She stopped to take my picture while I was sitting in a small park outside the train station, and we struck up a conversation. The thing I like about Lexi is that it's been a long time since I met someone who was actually excited about being a writer. And I mean excited. Most of us fall into this gig because we're not suited for much else... which makes nearly everything else an offshoot of some marrow deep need to scribble. I write for the same reason I breathe, and I make no promises about the artistic merit of either activity. 

Lexi was so excited that she was downright bubbly and nearly frenetic. And that is a good thing to see.  An addiction to words -- much like an addiction to travelling -- is not always an easy thing to feed. The difficulty can make it easier to simply take it for granted in favor something that pays more and sustains less. 

When I'm Out and About I am often struck by how fortunate I am to have friends and family, to be loved, to be able to find shelter, to have some of the opportunities I have had. It makes me more aware that there are people who have not had and do not get those opportunities. And for those of you who have yet to figure out why I have the political leanings I do, why I put faith in people and not institutions, and why it seems like I'm only getting more rascally as time goes on -- it is because I go Out and About and see this country I love.

And when I run into people like Lexi, I know for sure I'm on the right track.


10 July, 2013

Williston Update: Eyes And Ears

I got to a state where phrases like "the Good, the True, the Beautiful" filled me with a kind of suppressed indignation.." - Thomas Merton

The biggest change since the last time I traveled by train is the heightened sense of paranoia... I mean security. There's a huge television in the Concourse B Lounge that plays a video on a permanent loop. The smiling, friendly woman in an Amtrak engineer's uniform assures us that we were all in this together. TSA, along with city,county, and state police are all working together to ensure that our rail experience is safe and enjoyable. They have specially trained explosive sniffing dogs. While the friendly engineer lady reads the cue cards, a montage of competent officers and well-trained dogs plays. Everyone is calm and courteous and official. 



But, that's not enough, according to the kind engineer lady and one of the calm and courteous and official TSA agents. 



"After all," he proclaims to the camera, "we're all in this together!"

They say they need my help. MY HELP. Why, I can be a hero,too! I can be the eyes and ears of the police and turn in people who look suspicious.

Whatever that means. The video makes sure to not advocate racial profiling. I am told several times to focus on behavior, not looks. The nice engineer lady is Black. The TSA is Latino. All of the people committing "suspicious acts" are white... and a few of them are even dressed like urban professionals.

After all, it could be anybody.

The thing about traveling, whether you're on your own or whether you are traveling with someone or with a group, is that at some point you have to be able to reach out to fellow travellers. Even if it's just to ask directions or about some procedural. In order to travel, you need to know when to reach out and ask for basic assistance. 

Yes, there are going to be less than trustworthy people; but generally, if you keep your wits about you, and you pay attention to your surroundings, you begin to learn who you can reach out to.

But does that mean that I need to be not  racially profiling and report some abstract "suspicious" behavior to a cop?

I don't know. I tend not to trust cops. I know there are good ones and there are bad ones... but in the end, they're the arm of an institution I have long lost faith in. And for all the talk in that Orwellian video about NOT racially profiling, the fact is that cops do generally profile people. The fact is WE ALL generally profile people. For example, when I say "I don't trust the police" I realize I'm lumping a whole bunch of people  together. The best I can do is try and remember that when they're people,too. 

I sometimes hear the phrase "post 9/11America." The heightened sense of paranoia... I mean security... and increased hassle of traveling. Random searches and added delays are a part of the deal. Your property is not private if some representative of one of the cooperating agencies decides you are behaving in a suspicious way. 

01 July, 2013

Story Gathering Project 1, Williston: Plans and Updates


You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. - Camus

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.
- Robert Louis Stevenson 


I'm heading to Chicago to catch the train a week from today (Monday 7/1/13). I'll be taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Rugby, North Dakota -- the ascribed center of North America. After a day there, I'll catch the train (again, the Empire Builder) to Williston.

I'm still working on accommodations in Rugby... hoping to camp, actually, if the weather isn't too oppositional. I don't worry too much about one night here or there, but I AM hoping to be out of the elements somewhat when I'm in Williston. The money I put away towards this trip has gone towards transportation costs and a newer, sturdier pack. (My old one, of dubious Chinese manufacture, barely survived last year. My new blue ruck is tougher, and American-made.) Since the Kickstarter campaign didn't quite work out, I'm having to piece together my shelter. For now, I've got two nights at one of the several motels in Williston... that's Thursday the 11th and Friday night the 12th. After that, I'm hoping something else will turn up.

Because of the influx of people looking for work in the tar sands... not to mention that pesky business about Wal-Mart effectively booting a primary customer base and demonstrating yet again it's poor people skills... there is no place that allows for tent camping in Williston, except for one place: the Buffalo Trails Campground. Having looked them up again as recently as today, it seems there's new management. That's a good thing if any of the previous reviews are at all accurate. Stay tuned for more on that one, Dear Readers.

I'm picking up on a few things in my early research about Williston, one point being so stereotypically American that I expect to see a flock of John Waynes moseying down the street. There are several motels. All of them have a bar. All of them have a casino. I haven't seen any indications of where Miss Peggy's House of Massage and Tea Room are located, but I expect there's some of that, too.

Or maybe that's one town over. I have also read that rent is getting so high in Williston that many workers are living in towns around for cheaper rents. This might account for some of the discrepancies in the population count. The 2010 census came up with a population of 14,716 -- an increase of around 2000 people since the 2000 census. But the fellas on the City Commission estimate a higher population count of at least 20,000. Maybe up near 30,000. The reason for the differential?

The 2010 census didn't count people living in Williston for work. 

In addition to fracking and oil wells, agriculture is still listed as part of the area's primary economy. I suspect that the bigger chunk of all that goes to service industries, though. Companies like Halliburton, which provides the fracking technology used by most of the oil companies represented in Williston Basin and the Bakken Formation.

You remember Halliburton, right? Darth Cheney's old outfit? The one that also gets fat government contracts?

As a matter of fact, Halliburton has a corporate offices in Williston.

I expect that getting there on a weekend will prime time for people watching and interaction. I'm hoping to spend enough time there to see what the real story is... the narrative that has yet to be told. There's something fundamentally... AMERICAN in the idea of a boomtown. It's tied into our history, into our mythology, into our sense of who we are. It's tied to our culturally constructed definitions of Democracy and Capitalism. (Still NOT the same thing, no matter what some far right wingers say.)  You read enough about boom towns and American History and you notice a couple of things:


  1. It's never neat and tidy; there's a lot of violence, a lot of loss.
  2. There's also success. But we tend to hear more about the successes and not the problems. Because the problems aren't simple, and because they are tied to more than just people making money. The problems are tied to power, to authority, and to the mythology of the American Dream... that old idea that if you just work hard enough, that you will succeed. 


P.S.: It's also tied to that old Objectivist (aka Ayn Randian) Dream: that the only rule that matters is Social Darwinism.

In order to save some money, in order to reduce the amount of time I'll have to kill between stops in Chi-town, I am taking a Greyhound Bus from River City to Chicago.  I only took Greyhound because it was actually cheaper than Megabus... though not by much. The Old Grey Dog, inspite of it's attempts to modernize with free wifi on SOME busses and electric outlets on SOME busses that work SOME of the time, is still missing some fundamentals of customer service.

For example, while Amtrak and Megabus BOTH have very functional and free iphone apps, Greyhound does not. This, in combination with scrapping the Discovery Pass, is one more nail in their coffin, as far as I'm concerned. 

Being concerned as I am and being a frequent traveller, I thought I'd given them the heads up. Rather than try and find some contact point in their corporate office... which is difficult to do... I decided to be that it would be best to contact them the way everyone communicates now:

via FACEBOOK.

I sent a short, polite message last night. And this morning, I actually got a message back. If you are a long time reader, you know HOW SIGNIFICANT THIS IS: 

Don't worry, AC. I will. You keep on bein' you.

28 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Moth StorySlam, Williston, and Current Events

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. -- Hannah Arendt

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

(Image by Amanda L. Hay)
1. Grand Slam

Getting up on stage reminded me of how much I have missed it.

The Moth StorySlam is where The Moth Podcast gets it's audio from; the podcasts tend to focus on the coasts, particularly New York, and they tend to air stories from well-known folks. In order to be considered for the grab bag, however, I had to sign a release giving them permission to record audio and video -- in the event the producers end up using my 5 minutes on the regular podcast.

StorySlams happen all over the country. In Louisville, it happens on the last Tuesday of the month at Headliner's Music Hall. I'd listened to the podcasts, but had never been to a live event. When I signed up to perform, I had no idea if I would be able to: not because of nerves so much as the nature of the event. I can stand up and read poems and tell stories for a long time. My problem with stories is generally that they tend on the long side. (I'm working on the craft a bit to get better. It's surprisingly difficult for someone who's longwinded.)

After putting my name in, I sat down with Amanda, had a cocktail, and waited. There are only 10 slots for storytellers, and you don't know if you're getting on stage until they pull another name out of the bag.

I tried not to get nervous. I'd thought about the story I was going to tell, and had practiced a bit. The topic for the night was "Fathers." I had decided, rather than talk about my own father -- the personage of whom, like my paternal grandfather, has fallen somewhat into the category of myth -- that I would talk about my own experience as a father. I chose a story that I thought reflected some of my own foibles and frustrations and experience as a father. But even after practicing, I was well above the prescribed 5 minute limit.

I drank a few bourbon and cokes, stayed calm, and half listened 11 stories. I enjoyed them for various reasons. Some did better than others about staying in the time limit; but I noticed that some of the slower moving ones made similar mistakes to the ones I usually make. By the end of the night, I didn't expect to step on stage.

And then they called my name.

The good news about a venue like that is that the stage lights are so bright, it's impossible to tell if people are making faces, not listening, or becoming horrified by your performance. Except for the times they laughed -- at points where I was hoping I'd be funny -- I really had no sense there was anything there. I'm generally used to more intimate performance spaces; I can usually see the people in the audience. But even that can be stressful, particularly with my still burgeoning musical exploits. And in this case, not being able to see the audience was more of a help than a hinderance... it helped moderate my nerves.

I didn't win the slam -- that went to Jim Call, who told a tear jerker about camping with his dad. But that's hardly the point. I was able to put a story together, make people laugh, talk about my daughter (which I love to do) and manage all of that within 5 minutes.

Not too shabby, Dear Readers. Not too shabby at all.

In the event that my story actually makes onto the podcast, you better believe I will mention it to you. Check out the podcast anyway. It's worth it.

image from therubygroup.com
2. The Re:Visionary Story Gathering Project 1: Williston 


Even though the Kickstarter funding didn't come through, the project goes on. I have my upgraded pack and a multi-city train ticket that will take me from Chicago (that leg will be completed on   a good ol' Greyhound Bus... in spite of their shabby treatment, I still return to them in desperate times.) to Rugby, North Dakota for a brief (one night) stop. Then I'll hop back on the train and go to Williston, where I hope to find some interesting stories about what it's like to live in a boomtown.

Why Rugby, you ask? Rugby happens to be the geographic center of North America -- or so ascribed.

After 9 days in Williston, I'm headed further west to East Glacier Park, Montana, where I plan on camping out for a few days, somewhere in the Glacier National Park. Then I'm back on the train, headed east, via Minneapolis.

From there, I'll wander back to Kentucky one way or another.

This is a trip of a different sort from last year, and with a different purpose. One of the things I found when I was out last year was that there are still plenty of stories to tell, and more that are never heard, simply because no one is listening. I'm a sucker for a good story, and a hound when it comes to digging them up. Williston is fascinating -- not only because of the tar sands boom, but because of the narrative that's built up around our need for natural resources. "Drill, baby, Drill!" (which is either a demand for more oil wells or Sarah Palin's mating call) versus "Recycle, Reuse, Renew!" is all anyone ever really hears. Poor, poor oil companies that'll fall off the Forbes Most Wanted List without reaching into the very core of the earth. Fracking -- the the primary operation in Williston -- is by many accounts an environmental disaster. But it also means jobs. High paying ones. And one of the voices that has always been suspiciously absent in the narrative between those who would squeeze the planet dry and those who would squeeze the oil companies dry are the people who need the work, and those who have more of a first hand perspective, like the residents of Williston. Those are the stories I'm interested in.

If you'd like to hear these stories too, please consider a donation to the Travel Fund. I'm still short of funds for shelter, and Williston, because of the boom, has extremely limited areas where tent camping is allowed... and virtually no resources for the weary wanderer. Thanks, and Gawd Bless.


image from fineartamerica.com
3. Current Events

It would be remiss of me to not mention the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the assault on Miranda Rights that came down from the High Court in it's most recent session. It would also be completely thick-headed of me to not discuss the impact of the court's ruling on DOMA. So here's the short of it --

Gutting the Voting Rights Act was nothing more than the next step towards what is a dangerous trend in Nationalism. Don't think Hitler. Think Franco. This isn't about world conquest because the world is already conquered by those corporate interests that own most of what we hear, and all of our politicians... not to mention the food we eat and soon, the water we drink. The world has been cut up by them into a map that most of us have never seen. Governments are conduits for making sure money moves around to all the Right People. And in case you're wondering, it's probably not You. And it's not all those Nasty Poor People who are blamed for everything. And it's not anyone you probably know or see on the street. These people don't shop at the same places we do. They don't eat at the same restaurants we do. And while we think we know their names, we only know a few. And as long as their coffers are full, what happens to the rest of us is statistically irrelevant to them.

Ruling that suspects DO NOT have the right to remain silent means that if you are arrested, you are required to assist in your own prosecution. That's the long and short of it. And if you think it won't apply to you, you're probably one of those who isn't bothered by PRISM. Then again, you probably weren't bothered by the Patriot Act, the NDAA, or the fact that Google and Facebook have been gathering information on their users for YEARS. It's called MARKETING people. Except now instead of selling us Russian Brides and fashion underwear, they're selling us on the sure safety of a Police State.

DOMA: All the ruling says is that states can no longer hide behind Federal Law in condoning bigotry. Now they can hide behind self-loathing, hatred, and people's quaint notions of who (or what) they think god is. This good for State's Rights people (read: Confederate Sympathizers) and a potential good thing for LGBTs who want to get married. Yes, married partners, regardless of gender will have access to the Federal Benefits of marriage. And not to minimize the potential impact, but the fact is there still a bunch of stuffy guys in power out there with fears of forced sodomy... and enough ego to believe that gay men actually want to fuck them.

On Whistleblowers: I'm still not sure whether I think Snowden is a hero, or whether I think I'm being distracted (like the IRS and Bhengazi "scandals.") from some other story of greater importance. It does seem oddly timed, given the narrative of NSA wiretapping, and news that China has been cyber-warring against us. But whether the narrative is meant to silence would be whistle-blowers or to distract the info-meme ingesting public from more pertinent goings on, it's still interesting to note that a few other whistleblowers and truth tellers have mysteriously died over the past year. In this climate, I give Snowden 6 months before he winds up dead from a mysterious strain of typhoid or in a convenient plane crash, or as collateral damage in a South American Civil War (funded by the CIA, naturally, who helped bring South America so many little coups and ruthless dictators.)

THANKS FOR READING. GAWD BLESS.



02 November, 2012

Carlinville Intermezzo: The Story Of R

The train station in Carlinville, Illinois is nothing more than a ventilated brick box. Cement floor, a single bench, no heat for the winter and not even a fan for warmer weather. I got there around 11:30 in the morning. The train to Chicago wasn't going to arrive until 3:30 that afternoon. The sky was cloudy, the temperature cold, and it was spitting a particularly unforgiving rain that made me grateful for I didn't have to walk the miles from Litchfield.

Nothing about Carlinville impressed me enough to get wet wandering around to explore it. I noticed one clearly No-Tell-Motel on the way into town. (The sign listed a price differential between single and double beds, and the ambiance suggested that there should have also been a price differential for hourly and nightly rates.) I also took note of several bars, none of which looked trustworthy enough to carry my pack into. Other than the rail, which rolled by a deserted grain elevator, there was very little left to describe. Like every other town that grew up along Route 66, it was impacted by completion of the I-55 corridor. And it was clearly impacted again by changes in the railroad industry.

I was alone in the brick box for about 20 minutes before he hurried in and asked if I had a cigarette. And if I was slightly inclined to dig deeper into Carlinville -- named, according to an optimistically written Wikipedia page, after a former Governor -- talking to R would have changed my mind.

He assured me that if I was looking to get laid, that all I had to do was walk down the street.

"Ah," I said. "So they're trying to fish outside of the gene pool?"

"Gene pool. Yeah, man You got that right!"

A man on the run from something has a distinct body language. Jerky movements. Disheveled look. Given the mostly pale demographic of the town and -- except for the Indians who worked in the hotels and the Mexicans who did the service industry grunt work -- R stuck out simply because he was black.

After I was unable to give him a cigarette, he asked where I was going and where I'd come from. So I gave him the quick and dirty version. Hearing that I walked from Staunton to Litchfield elicited a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."


"You didn't have a car?"

"If I had a car, I wouldn't need to catch a train."

That seemed to satisfy him for the most part. It also gave him a door to prove the current events of his life more interesting than mine.

R was not from Carlinville. He was from Springfield, Illinois, but came there via St. Louis. And he did it for a girl. The part that seemed to surprise him, even though he was standing in a brick box train depot waiting for the train that would take him back to Springfield with his few possessions in a 33 gallon garbage bag, was that it didn't work out.

"She's a white girl," he said. "And she's... you know... not thick." He repeated this several times throughout the story, as if he was trying to convince himself that it should have, and for those very reasons.

The story unfolded something like this: he met the woman he was trying to escape the day after he got out of jail. R explained that yes, "It was drug related stuff," but that he had cleaned up his act since and was no longer doing whatever it was that got him locked up. But, he admitted that, upon his release, he was on the hunt for the one thing he couldn't get while he was incarcerated. And it just so happened that he got call from a former cellie who had a girlfriend who had a friend.

"I was looking for a one night stand," R maintained. "But it didn't turn into that."

Upon his release, R had been sent to a half-way house to ensure that his rehabilitation would take. After one night with this girl -- whose name, I have to admit, I don't remember -- she took it upon herself to harass his Parole Officer and the Missouri State Department of Corrections to secure his release from the half-way house so that he could move in with her. When calling St. Louis didn't help, R, said, she drove from Carlinville to St. Louis five days a week in order to visit him and track down the dodgy P.O. Naturally, the development seemed to work to his advantage, so he didn't argue. And while he never uttered the word, the confluence of events must have seemed to him, at the time, serendipitous. And when his parole officer secured his release from the half-way house... making it clear that his only reason was to get the woman off his back... R thought he'd stumbled onto the love of his life.

His first indication that something was amiss was when he showed up in Carlinville and discovered that not only did his true love have two kids -- from two different fathers -- and that both of them were medicated for educational and developmental issues, but that she also lived with her sister, her sister's flavor of the week, and HER two kids.

To hear him tell it, his one true love did nothing except sleep all day, eat ice cream and want to fuck. She didn't want to deal with her kids. She didn't want to deal with her sister's kids. Apparently the sugar she ingested while watching Maury Povich was only to be used in the pursuit of more ice cream and sex.

To hear him tell it, she screwed him raw. And in every way possible. And when he was too exhausted to get it up "I'm not as young as I used be, you know" she would insist that he do something else to fill her appetites. And then she expected him to take care of the kids, who wouldn't listen to him. And then she expected him to make her a sandwich. And then clean up the house. And then go buy her some ice cream.

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.

Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

Apparently, there was a day when his own true love actually left the house -- for reasons he didn't explain -- and he took it upon himself to change out the sheets on the bed. She had told him he could find clean sheets in a Santa Claus bag in the hall closet. He found the bag and starting digging through pillow cases and sundry unmatched soft goods until he stumbled upon something that wasn't so -- soft.

Actually there were several.

"I'm telling you," he said, "the bitch could open a dildo flea market!"

He found out later, however, that not all the dildos were for her. Apparently she was hoping that R's time in prison made him a more amenable catcher to a stiff pitch.

R would have none of it.

And while he didn't say directly, the eventual decline of the relationship -- he reiterated several times that he was in love with her but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" -- began with his discovery of the toys and his denial of her strap-on passion.

Even love has it's limits.


01 March, 2012

Shipping Out to Boston: The Beantown Massacre (Verses 1 and 2)


And Alice... Remember Alice? The song's about Alice. -Arlo Guthrie

I'm tired of being civilized. Look for me Butte. -Utah Phillips

Verse 1

I'm leaving Boston by train. 20 minutes or so in and moving along more or less on schedule. Although my stay here was brief, and I saw hardly any of the sites people are supposed to see when they go someplace as historic as Boston – my friend and host, Eric (heretofore after known as Neil The Protestant Saint) did point in the direction of the bridge where The Actual Tea Party happened.

[My use of capital letters was intentional. With the Koch Brothers financing the cadre of yahoos known as The Tea Party – which consists primarily... though not ENTIRELY... of lower class whites disenfranchised by the power mongers and money changers (in the Biblical sense... think about it.)and older white folks who probably consider themselves middle or upper middle class... primarily because they still have the hope of retirement, Snow-birding in Florida or Arizona, and a cool, comfy grave... who are alternately afraid that some great brown or black horde is out to destroy their way of life and also afraid they might have to start paying legal wages to get their landscaping done. Of course, on a FUNDAMENTAL level, there's probably not a lot of difference between this current batch of crackers who don't want to pay taxes and the historical bunch of crackers who didn't want to pay taxes. Except the pantaloons and the tri-fold hats.]

I had such ambitions for my visit. I knew it was going to be brief. I knew I would be heading back to the Midwest – as I am right now – to take care of some remaining details regarding my current and ending marriage and to make plans for the future. I don't know if you've noticed a particular pattern over the last 31 posts; but if you have, one of them might possibly be a certain desire to avoid conflict and put off thinking about What I'm Going To Do Next.

[NOTE: THIS WILL BE THE TITLE OF MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY... ONLY BECAUSE AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IS ALREADY TAKEN... IF I EVER FIND A GHOSTWRITER WITH A DREAM AND AN INDEPENDENT INCOME STREAM.]

The truth is, I normally find it challenging enough to live in the present without having to worry about the future. But this trip – and the ones that will follow – are, underneath the bad varnish and veneer of my procrastination, all about The Future.

And of all my friends, probably the one who most interested in The Future is my friend Neil. Like my brother, he is tech-savvy and probably too smart for his own good. And, knowing my situation, and because he and I have always enjoyed what I like to think of as a certain meeting of the minds – we both had a predilection to wander into trouble when we were younger and we both wanted to be writers and we both liked our bourbon (Life long friendships have been forged over far less important things.) – he has been quick to not only offer his friendship and moral support, but some much appreciated assistance in the monetary vein when it was most needed. He also arranged for my transport from New York to Boston via Bolt Bus, allowed me to meet his wife, Laura, and their gold retriever, Clementine.

[I was supposed to meet Laura a few years back, when they were married in a picturesque chapel outside of Bloomington, Indiana. I was teaching at Arizona State and Melissa and I were, as always, in some cycle of living paycheck to paycheck; and even though I had almost a year to try and figure out how to get to Bloomington, the same thing happened that has always seemed to happen... a bunch or random events, seemingly unrelated, but still oddly conspiratorial in their result. And so, I wasn't able to make the trip. But Neil did show me pictures from the wedding. It was very nice. I (still) felt appropriately guilty for missing it.]

Neil works in the IT Department at Harvard, though they are looking hard at trying to move in the next few years. Laura is in the process of building up a business out of their apartment in the suburbs– Pansy Maiden Handmade Purses. Neil told me, based on the progress she's making that he expects she will be the primary bread winner by the time he's 40.

Like many of my friends, Neil and Laura are trying to be healthier and more conscious of what they eat. As a result, they're now full-fledged vegans. Now, let me say that even though I still occasionally want a hamburger or a well prepared steak (there's really no point to any other kind and anything else is an insult to the cow and to the person eating it), and even though I like chicken and I like fish when it's properly prepared (for the similar reasons as listed above), I am not opposed to a mostly vegetarian diet. I like the food; and when it's done right, it doesn't have to be expensive. I don't know that I could give up eggs and cheese on a regular basis; but I understand the impulse. The drive behind it has to with striving to live as close to a healthy and pure life as possible. And while some folks take this to an almost obsessive extreme, Neil and his wife, like my friends Susan and Steve in New York, are thoughtful and rational about the whole process. In some ways, Neil's desire to pay attention to the nutrients he takes in reminds me a little of Arc in Washington, D.C. (Though Arc is far more obsessed in his approach; maybe it's some derivative impact of being an IT person of a particular generation, not of my brother's... though he is, in his own way, extremely particular.) And I must confess that both meals I had under Neil and Laura's roof – a vegan Sloppy Joe and baked brussel sprouts (the best way to eat sprouts, I now believe) and a vegan Shepherd's Pie that was also really very good with a little sea salt and pepper) – were both wonderful.

[People who cook confirm for me what I learned during the process of learning how to cook over the past decade: when you know how to cook, and when you're willing to play with your food in healthy ways, you don't have to spend a lot and you don't have to go hungry, and you don't have to eat garbage. Me, I'm a big fan in rice and beans. Learn it. Live it. Love it.]

Neil met me at Boston's South Station – a huge mass/public transit depot for Amtrak, commuter rail, and bus (Greyhound, Bolt Bus, Lucky Star, Peter Pan). Of the stations I've been in, South Station is one of the better conceived and better kept up. It has all the ambition of Union Station in D.C, but it's not in a state of perpetual construction; it has all the goods and services and kiosks that you expect in an urban transit center, but it's still laid out in a logical way. Boston may be a back water in comparison a place like New York; (even Neil admitted this was the case... and considering where he's from in Kentucky, he knows quite a bit about the nature, scope, and definition of back water. So I am inclined to trust his opinion... except maybe on his newly acquired interest in the Red Sox. At least they're not the fucking Yankees, damn their eyes.) however, at least they know how to build and maintain a train station.

As usual, the cold weather was also there to greet me, and we made our way through an entirely too brisk wind for such a mild winter to a restaurant where I ate a respectable mission burrito (rice, tomatoes, black beans and some guacamole. A nearly perfect meal.) and a cup of coffee. He then wanted to stop a bar, promising me beer with 10% alcohol (Budweiser has about 5%, by way of a loose … very loose … comparison.); but the bar was crowded. So we went on back to his and Laura's place in the burbs, the idea being we could drink there just as easily and far cheaper.

Verse 2

[A Brief Primer on Drinking and the Creative Process:

While it's true that I do and that I have spent many happy hours sitting in bars or in a friend's home drinking, it's not something I consider a real problem. Others may disagree. They are entitled. Since leaving Kentucky I've stayed – much to my surprise and sometimes to my dismay – amazingly sober. It's expensive to drink on road. And believe it or not, I have friends who don't drink. No. Really. Sober people occasionally enjoy spending time with me. Granted they may be laughing at me behind my back; but I'm usually too drunk to pay attention.]

When people have asked me what I studied in graduate school, I very rarely give a straight answer. This is due, no doubt, to a certain puckishness on my part; I'm just as apt to answer Mechanized Finger Painting as I am Professional Underwater Leg Shaver. Sometimes I tell people I majored in loafing as an undergraduate and went on to study the fine art of sloth and indolence in graduate school.

None of these – except Mechanized Finger Painting and Professional Underwater Leg Shaver (I have trouble holding my breath) – is really all that inaccurate. After all, I was (in truth) an English major. And what was worse, I was one of those who aspired to write.

[Now, all you English Majors out there, writers or not, who are screaming at your laptop about just how WRONG my characterization is, please do consider this: if you declared English as a major (May Gawd Have Mercy On Your Eternally Damned Soul) chances are, you like to read. I mean, at least slightly better than half. Say 51% chance. Right? (Nod in agreement.) Ok. So you have to read a lot of stuff you probably wouldn't have and you maybe don't give a good god damn about Dickens or Matthew Arnold or Alexander Pope or whether Sir Francis Bacon was the talent behind Shakespeare or whether it was really his sister Anne, or what. To be honest, I didn't give a damn, Except for the erotic literature (which probably isn't period and certainly isn't canonical), I LOATHE most of the Victorian Era … including Dickens, in spite of his massive social conscience. That he was paid per word, and published his works serially... I don't really object to. Dostoyevsky was paid by the word too, and wrote copiously... but at least he was doing something noble and trying to pay off gambling debts. The point is, essentially, you get to read. You have to learn how to write about what you read and become, in fact, BETTER readers. And if you don't like Return of the Native(which I like, having read it years later) or The Old Curiosity Shop(which I like in spite of Dickens. Hard Times, too. So Suck it.) you don't have to. You just have to be able to explain in precise and bloody terms WHY.]

One of the other things I often tell people is that I majored in GTA (That's GRAND THEFT AUTO, the video game) and beer. (When I was teaching, students especially enjoyed that particular description.) The reason I have told people that is that my entire last semester, other than teach, and work on my creative thesis (Buckeye Gumbo), I was half-assing my way through my one lit class, drinking a lot of beer, and playing video games. I lived in a house with a bunch of other guys who engaged in the same noble pursuit.

And it was nothing short of glorious. As a man, you never really understand yourself as a man until you admit that, even in your early 30's you need to drink beer, eat pizza, and play video games. Or do something else that is maladjusted and anti-social and potentially embarrassing for for friends, lovers, and family to have to explain to others (only when asked and usually with great trepidation.)

Neil was one of the guys who, even though he didn't officially live there – neither did I, for that matter – who was always there and engaged in what can only be described as the contemporary version of the scrotum scratching tribal drum circle that Robert Bly made himself famous for. For my part, I haven't picked up a game controller since we pawned the PS2 in Phoenix to help pay for the move. (Then again, I have moved on to other, more disreputable pursuits... journalism and gambling among them. It's also important to keep your sins down to a reasonable number... say, drinking plus 3. Plus 4 if it's a holiday.) Neil has a gamer's dream: 52 inch plasma screen (LCD isn't THX certified), a PS3 and and an Xbox. (It's important to have everything covered.) He's also got that set up where You Become The Controller.

So he made us drinks and we played darts. Virtual darts. Which I sucked at. But then again, they weren't real, so it didn't matter anyway....

The drinks were Rum and Ginger Ale. I don't normally drink rum, primarily because it doesn't always sit well in my system. Too much sugar maybe. But The only thing bourbon related he had was a partial pint of Jim Beam... which, when I mentioned it, I thought maybe he was ashamed. Maybe.

We spent the night catching up and talking about mutual friends, which is always nice. I had some updates since I've had the opportunity to visit old friends on this particular jaunt. Neil, who is much taller than I actually remember him being, spent a lot time talking about not only how he's happy with the direction of his life, and how happy he is with Laura, but also telling me that even though I'm going through something with the ending of my marriage to Melissa, that I also have a chance to make something good out of it.

“You can write yourself out of this,” he said.

It made me feel good... one, that he's been reading. And two, that he still knows me... even though we actually hadn't seen one another in person since I left Morehead in 2002.