Showing posts with label Eastward-ish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eastward-ish. Show all posts

10 July, 2012

Eastward-ish -- Leaving Minneapolis... Again (The Who-Dey Hoedown)

A man's work is doing hat he's supposed to do, and that's why he needs a catastrophe now and again to show him a bad turn isn't the end...." - William Least-Heat Moon, The Blue Highway

You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are. -- Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

Harrison Street Station, Chicago
By the time I got to Chicago, I'd been on a bus more than 12 hours. And though I was a little tired, it was more out of anxiousness than exhaustion. Though I was able to get out of Minneapolis on my own steam, and was on my way back to the Ohio Valley more or less on the schedule established by the deadline on my long gone Discovery Pass, I was traveling with a greater sense of urgency than I had felt in a long while. Urgency mixed with no small amount of nervousness.

When Dave and Jamie dropped me off at bus station, it was about an hour and a half before my scheduled departure time. 11:30 at night and the temperature in downtown Minneapolis was a slightly less sweltering 93 degrees. The air didn't exactly feel like hot ash when it hit my lungs; but with the fire and brimstone summer I'd experienced so far, my standards for such qualifying remarks were, you might say, fairly high. 

Let's be honest. I escaped the monsoon season in Arizona, only to make it to Colorado, where the whole fucking world was on fire. It takes more than steam rising off the cement near midnight for me to start thinking that Earth's core opened up somewhere near Coalinga Junction (where, if there's a door to the fiery underworld, it surely exists) California and was burning  through the thin skin of the world bit by dusty bit. 

As per the information I gleaned from my post ragtime conversation with Shaniqua (or was it Shauntell?)  at the Customer Assistance line for Greyhound Bus Lines, I set up a password so the ticket agent would know that I am, in fact, myself. When I walked up to the counter and gave the very bored and not over-worked ticket agent purchase reference number, I expected him to ask for the password that I had chosen carefully to establish my right to ride the bus. But he didn't ask for it. All he did was print out the ticket, and have me sign a receipt.

I thought of my friend Dave, heading back with his wife Jamie to their apartment in Bloomington (a burb of Minneapolis). When I told him they would let me ride without a picture ID he shook his head, muttered something about Homeland Security and something that sounded like

"Well, what's one more terrorist..."

I didn't think he was talking about me. While it is true that I was mistaken for a Black man once and a Mexican twice, I didn't think my beard was sufficiently long enough to be racially profiled for a terror suspect. Maybe. Actually, with the way things are going in the Grand American Republic, that might be outside the realm of possibility. 

But let's put it off as long as we can, shall we?

18 hours from Minneapolis to Cincinnati... my long burn on a Greyhound, at least for a while. The urgency that was propelling me forward, and the fear that I would not be able to stay there and find the relaxation and respite I needed. 

The trip westward and back had been a good one, and I was looking forward to more. I wanted to spend some time on home ground, try and recollect the notes that had been lost when my journal and ID went missing. I wanted to wallow in some warmth and sweet solace; I wanted to plan my southern jaunt. I knew I would have to go back to Mount Carroll at some point, check the mail piling up in the post office, file for divorce, see friends there.  I wanted to be able to relax, too. And reflect on my experiences, enjoy those moments among family, friends, and loved ones. 

I had pretty good luck, as buses go... only getting an old bus from Indianapolis to Dayton Trotwood. Leaving Minneapolis, and from Chicago to Indy, I managed to get newer buses with electric outlets, WiFi, and air conditioning that mostly worked. From Minneapolis to Chicago, I was able to stretch out and sleep a little... though not much.  I was low on money, having to spend more than I would have liked on my bus ticket. It occurred to me that I would have to find other, even cheaper modes of transportation to fill the gaps... maybe even provide a longer term solution for traveling on the cheap. 

Thanks for reading. I'll be off the road... sort of... for a bit... but doing some visiting, and planning for my southern jaunt. Keep reading for details. And remember, if you like it, feel free to share the link. And if you're feeling REALLY partial, consider a donation to the travel fund. (Gawd Bless!)

09 July, 2012

Clock Watching In The Time Zone Continuum - A Poem

Seven minutes until the hour and the 12:01 to Kansas City
hasn't boarded yet. The driver announced a delay – some
“beer problem” he called it. Jefferson Lines – the great
Western Carrier from Minneapolis to Sioux City, Rapid City,
through Bozeman and Billings and west, until Seattle –
can't keep to a schedule for shit, and a drunk with a weak stomach
is one more reason to shave 10 minutes off a 15 minute smoke break
in Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace.

Strangers chit chat to pass the time.
It was 106 in St. Louis yesterday. Be 110 tomorrow.
Full moon madness brought to full fruition by the heat.
The western lands are burning.
(The Kentucky Hills are, too –
but no one notices when poor folks
go up in smoke.)

No storms predicted southbound.
But north of here, tornadoes fomenting,
and the rain is never enough anywhere
in spite of the prayers offered
by lips too parched to articulate
highfalutin' words
from a centuries dead faith.

Ten minutes to after the hour.
The bus to Kansas City rolls out
nine minutes late –
in spite of passengers bum rushing the door.

I want to smoke; but the night air is a wall of heat
93 degrees in the city –
and it's after midnight
and I am tired.

Eighteen hours to Cincinnati
via Chicago … where I have no friends...
then Indianapolis, which is kind to no one
with the smell of the Ohio River in his veins
then Dayton, where the alien bodies are kept.

Tomah, Wisconsin. It's 3:40 in the morning.
I am smoking in the middle of a McDonald's parking lot,
debating about buying coffee I know
will not satisfy and hoping against hope
I might get some more sleep –
that, not surprisingly, does not come.
The bus smell of salty grease,
burnt and watered down coffee,
and heat lamp cooked ketchup for miles
deep into the Eastbound darkness.

Chicago terminal 9 AM. Enough time to find my line
and pick a good place. There is no solace among the familiar faces,
the red shirted station attendant will not answer my questions.
I am surrounded by mothers traveling with children,
beat cops and private security pushing off the ne'erdowells,
(I have a ticket. They can do nothing to me.)
Passengers and travelers jockeying for a better position in line
hoping for whatever their definition
of a good seat is, praying
they will not have to sit next to anyone
and risk the conversation
or the potential body odor of someone
who has not had time to brush his teeth
or put on stink covering deodorant,
or to even change his clothes.

They do not know that traveling is as dirty as it is glorious:
that the world rubs off on you – whether you like or not –
and that humanity is glorious and smelly and crude
and honest and ugly and beautiful
and does not care whether you care or not.

We crossed into the Eastern Time zone around 10AM.
Taking note of the time on my cell phone
(which insists on counting for me)
and changed the time on my wristwatch.
I prefer old clock faces to digital time,
the sweeping of the hands lends the passage of seconds
a more poetic feel. Digital clocks tick fast
and no one notices until it reads the hour
they are waiting for:

Go to work.
Start work.
Finish work.
Go home.

is a sweaty hour at the gym.
Salvation is Friday cocktails with the women from the office,
when the office shrew will let her freckled tits hang out
and maybe not object to a casual grope,
but living to tell the revised tale to her husband:
though the other women will not forget
and will find some way to mention it
in some secret interdepartmental report.

The clock face lends the passage of time,
which sometimes passes too too fast, just a smidgen of grace.
(Which a vagabond needs in these interesting times,
in the parlance of the ancient Chinese proverb.)

Indianapolis is a quick change, not even time to get fresh water.
Just past the halfway mark, another 8 hours to go,
though it is, I know, only 90 minutes straight to Cincinnati down I-74.
The cafeteria window is closed for lunch
and none of the vending machines accept loose change,
and the drink machines all have signs warning me
they are not keep anything cold enough
and that I buy at my own risk.
Even the water from the fountain is warm
and tastes like old minerals.

We got off schedule somewhere between Indy and Gary,
there was no time to stop. And no one wanted to, anyway.
Smokers only get bitchy on night buses, when they can't sleep
and the drivers are sourly and unsympathetic.

Down I-70 into Ohio. Outside of Clayton and Englewood,
the landscape started to roll more
the way it does in the southwest corner of the state,
formed by receding glacier that formed the riverbed
and the seven hills. An hour and twenty minute layover
and an hour bus ride down 75, into the city
via the Norwood Lateral, Gilbert Avenue,
and into one of the main arteries downtown,
next to the casino being built
(that has already collapsed once).
Construction is ongoing, the Hamilton County Sheriff
needs a solid retirement plan, when graft and petty racism
run out.

The bus rolls in at 8:30 – a full 10 minutes early
(slower holiday weekend traffic). I step off the bus,
into the humid Ohio Valley summer air,
and hold my breath for moment
giving my soul a chance to adjust
to the stark change in scenery.

THANKS FOR READING. Look for a post about the trip from Minneapolis to Cincinnati in the next day or so.

And if you LIKE what you read, please (purty pleez?)


04 July, 2012

Eastward-ish: (Another) Whim of the Great Magnet

If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. -- Lewis Carroll

Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly. -- Edward Albee

As you might recall, I walked into the Little Six Casino Mick Parsons and walked out divested of him. Nice enough guy, I suppose; but on the upside, I figure his identity is being used by some undocumented worker to stay in the country. On about the same level of an upside, part of my psyche hopes that some poor stupid bastard is, at this very moment, trying to acquire a hefty bank loan for an extravagant house, car, boat, or some other overpriced tinker toy, based on my credit history.

The peels of laughter from the loan department will be audible in a five state area. Really.

Beyond losing my ID, I lost my journal and my mode of travel. The loss of my notes and the bits of poetry hurt. The loss of my mode of travel -- the Discovery Pass that allowed me to travel from Ashland, Kentucky all the way to San Francisco, California, and had enough time on it to get to Cincinnati, Ohio before it expires on July 5th -- was more that problematic. Not only was I worried that I might be stuck, indefinitely, in Minneapolis, but I was pondering what that meant for the end of this particular jaunt. If it meant anything at all.

I was trying to figure out a way to get moving again, worried that I would overstay my welcome with my dear friends here, worried that future traveling might be complicated by my new minted non-person status, and worried that I would have to depend on my friends in a way I did not want to. I depend on them enough for a soft landing shelter, and food, and a ride to and from the bus station; they seem willing enough to help in these regards, seem to enjoy my company, and most of them even want me to visit again. In no way did I want to mess any of that up.

But it turns out, I stressed out all last week for nothing. I finally called Greyhound's Customer Assistance line to see if there was anything I could do short of waiting for a new picture ID to come in the mail or hitchhike.


I found out that all I needed to do was set up a password when I purchase my ticket online. When I pick it up at the ticket counter, that password will work as an ID.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Add to that a kind donation or two to the travel fund, and I was able to purchase a ticket. I'm headed out of Minneapolis at 1 AM July 5th and arriving in Cincinnati at 8:40 PM that same day. All in all, just shy of a 19 hour burn to get from here to there.

And I have enough money for a bottle of water and even (gasp!) a cup of coffee.

Gawd Bless America. And Gawd bless those of you who contributed. May your children grow up smart and good-looking and not at all resembling the mail carrier.

The universe smiles on me yet again. A little crack of a smile, to be sure. But a smile nonetheless. And I'm grateful for it. As last minute changes in plans, go, it could have gone a lot worse. For example, I could've had the experience of the Roving Northern Englander and been mugged In Omaha, Nebraska.

I'm still unclear as to how that happened. I'm not blaming the victim, but I do suspect, based on talking to him for several hours, that he said something to someone and got unwelcome attention. Maybe he was talking loudly about how thieves should have their hands cut off, and how Americans don't know how to spell color. (He prefers "colour" even though I pointed out it was a French influence after the Norman Invasion. I thought he was going to spit at me. Talk about a grudge.)

There have been more than a few last minute changes. For example, the shift in Louisville that led me to St. Louis, then to Hannibal, Missouri and inevitably to Minneapolis on my way west... and though South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking landscapes I have ever seen.

Truthfully, I could have done without the bedridden wildlife in Billings. But otherwise

I was planning a quick stop through San Fran and onto Oroville; but lingered in on the wharf a day longer and saw a wonderful city that I very much want to spend more time in.

Then there was the ill-fated trip to Salt Lake City, which led me to Colorado, meeting Cousin Mary and my Uncle Dan for the first time, and getting a glimpse into a side of the family that know next to nothing about. And I am planning on going back in October, Dear Readers, to learn more. I also got to see Cripple Creek, drive through Victor, and see the beginning of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

At every turn where I turned control over to the universe, I was not led astray. The trip became more interesting, took on additional dimensions.

A significant part of traveling -- of truly traveling -- is being prepared to adjust, being open to new roads, new possibilities. To be prepared for the unexpected. This most recent bit of the unexpected has not only freed me in some very important ways, but it reminded me that instead of moping and going into panic mode, that I need to follow my own advice. It showed me that instead of trying to re-establish control over event I may not have any control over to begin with, I need to breathe.

Simply breathe. And let the universe do the work. It may not always turn out so neatly. But a wise man -- which is what I hope to be one of these days many, many, many years from now -- will be steady,  live in the present, keep on walking, and be consistent whether his fortunes are good or bad.

I have so much to learn.

But I'm working on it.

Thanks for reading. Remember, if you like what you just read, please feel free to

Share the link, and / or
Donate to the travel fund. (Gawd Bless!)

03 July, 2012

Eastward-ish: Farsickness

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." - J.R.R Tolkien

I used to have a friend. Well, I believe he's still my friend, so there's no reason, I suppose, speak in the past tense. It's just that I haven't seen him in going on 8 years or so, and even then it was accidental. I don't remember the context of the conversation, only him laughing, the way he did at everything, and saying

"You're exactly like Bilbo Baggins!"

"In what way?" (I hadn't read The Hobbit  yet.)

He just laughed and shook his head. "You just are. Trust me."

This was long before I even aware of the itch that has since taken hold. My Dear Sweet Ma, and others, often refer to my itchy-footedness as wanderlust, which is loosely defined as "a predilection or desire to travel." The word itself is from the German, a turn of the (20th) century term that means "to enjoy hiking." There's another word... another German word, Fernweh -- which means "farsickness" or, more directly translated, "an ache for distant places" -- that might seem more appropriate. Maybe. 

Though to be honest, it's not so much far off places I am sick for as much as I am sick for traveling for it's own sake.

This is often a difficult concept to explain to people, and one that, even when they grasp it, few people really understand. And to be fair, I'm not sure I completely understand it myself. There's a certain amount of fluidity in the way I live, that's true. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly fluid and separated from general expectations of culture. And though my Dear Sweet Ma, and a few select of my closest friends who worry about my future, my safety, and (maybe) my sanity, keep telling me that I have to stop sometime... if even to make more money in order to keep traveling...

I keep thinking about how much more expensive it is to settle down than it is to keep on the move. To stay someplace, for more than a few days (a week at the most) requires:

  1. A Domicile. That usually means paying rent, unless you're effective at squatting.
  2. A Job. To pay for said domicile, and all that may entail.

Both of those things require an inevitable perpetual maintenance, a tithing, if you will, which means that the travelsickness becomes something altogether more malignant, cancerous. It becomes a TRUE sickness, a dissatisfaction that plays out in any number of ways. For me, I get mopey, I get surly, I become a lousy drunk. I quit jobs. I get fired from jobs.

In short, I begin to work against myself -- in spite my own intentions, which, believe it or not, are sometimes noble.

These are things on my mind as this particular jaunt, the Westward Expanse, comes to a close. In short order I'll be returning to the Ohio Valley for a bit, and then up to Northwest Illinois. It will be good to see familiar places and friends whose warmth and company I've missed. 

I'm not sure though, whether the road hasn't spoiled me, to some degree. And recent events, which include losing my ID, and the weighty thinking about identity, and what a name truly means -- not only to me, but to my friends, my family, and in the larger context of a culture in which people's lives are expected to be transparent so that The State doesn't have to be -- make me think that the only place for me is everywhere.

Thanks for reading. Remember, if you like it


01 July, 2012

Eastward-ish - The Denver Bug Out, Part 2 (Little Man)

This is the culture you're raising your kids in. Don't be surprised if it blows up in your face. -Marilyn Manson

Age does not make us childish, as some say; it finds us true children.  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Front of the line at Door 16.
The bus leaving Denver was going to be full, there was no avoiding that. Summer is, naturally, the most common time of year for people to travel; and while I managed to get a good place in the line because I took my spot at the font nearly an hour before anyone would normally line up -- a full two hours before the bus was scheduled to leave at 7:05 that evening -- I fully expected to have to sit next to another person. My scruffy looks tend to frighten people off until the bus fills up and some poor soul is left no choice but to take the aisle seat next to me. This usually means I get to sit next to someone similarly scruffy, sometimes, smelly, who, unlike me, was not quick-witted enough to get a place in the front of the line. I have learned not to take it TOO personally that the seat next to me is almost always the last one on the bus to fill up, even when I've just had a bath and my laundry is clean. And in many cases, being thoroughly avoided does make for more comfortable traveling...

... though I will always give up the empty seat next to me if someone asks. 

I choose to behave as if there is a certain etiquette when traveling, even if I end up sitting behind someone who has to put their seat all the way back even when I can't /don't/ would rather not. I do this for the same reason I don't shop at Wal-Mart. All lines being arbitrary -- because a lot of them are -- I'd try to live from what I consider an ethical standpoint. And for me, this means a certain amount of politeness on the road.

For a minute, though, as the bus was loading, I thought I might escape having to sit next to someone. Everyone seemed loaded,and there was no one next to me. I managed to get what I thought was a good seat, even though there were at least 10 people who got in ahead of me because they could afford the $5 for Priority Seating. (I was still operating off the same 19 cents.) 

Then Little Man plopped down holding a backpack that clearly weighed almost as much as him.

He was 5, maybe 6 years old. I didn't remember him in the line, or getting on the bus. There were some kids int he line, of course. You ought to expect that when traveling in general, not to mention traveling by bus.  It's one of those rules, especially on an overnight bus ride. There are always kids. And you might as well except the probability that at least one of them will cry. Luckily, Colorado Cousin Mary gave me some ear plugs... the kind most often used by gun enthusiasts and factory workers to keep from damaging their hearing. I fully expected to use them, since the ride from Las Vegas had been sleepless due to one motion sick little girl would would puke into a bag ... loudly, cry (understandably) and scream things like

"Mommy, let's get off this tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, TINY bus! PLEASE!!"

The repetition of the word "tiny" was a nice touch.

Little Man didn't look like a cryer, though. And while I was not happy about having to sit next to someone... after I was hoping that maybe I didn't have to (That's what I get for hoping!) I figured that someone who didn't take up a lot of space.. he could, in fact, curl up into a near ball in the seat he had a mind to... wouldn't be all that bad. I just hoped his mother was somewhere near in case the crying and puking  began.

I was settling in, getting ready to read Rumi until daylight quit.

"What is that?" He was clearly talking to me, pointing up at the reading light.

"It's a light, I said, friendly, informative, but still..."

"Turn it on!"

I reached up and turned it on. He looked up at the light briefly.

"Ok," he said. "Turn it off."

I reached up and turned it off, wondering whether this would be what the entire ride would be like.

Little Man pointed up at the circular air vent next to the reading light. "What's that?"

I told him.

"I want some air!"

Take a deep breath. He's only a kid. And, in comparison to the people around me, he wasn't bad. Actually, he stood out as the night went on as the one of the better passengers around me.

In front of me there was the ghetto diva in front of me who leaned her seat all the way back even when she wasn't asleep and her seatmate the Black Nationalist who eventually mistook me for black. Yes. Really. I guess Pasty white blue eyed dude with wool like beard = equals pale black. Good to know. Guess I can try for that Black Panther membership.  Then there were the two guys behind me... one a long haul trucker riding back to his rig and the down on his luck kid who was riding the bus to go to a job with no clothes, no gear, not even a jacket and who stumbled on the loquacious truck driver and became his travel companion / insult target. They traded jabs and near fights all the way to Kansas City.

But since none of that happened yet... I was determined to start the trip off establishing a basic understanding of traveler's etiquette... understanding that since he was a kid, he didn't know any better.

"Can you say please?"

Little Man paused. "Please."

Not phrased as a question, but you have to start somewhere. I reached up and opened the air vent, making sure to show him how it worked. He was too short to reach it while seated, but I thought the bit of information might stave off some bit of his curiosity.

As the bus pulled out he asked me where I was going.

"Minneapolis," I said.

"I'm going to Florida."


"Who you going with?"

"No one," I said. "I'm traveling alone." I pointed behind us with my right thumb. "Your mom back there somewhere ( I hope)?"

"Yeah," he pointed behind his shoulder. Mom was starting to pass out with another kid in the window seat next to her, who was already asleep. She looked exhausted, even with the excessive make-up and drawn in eyebrows. Not long after we were on the road, Little Man woke his mom up and asked to talk to Dad. She gave him the phone. Dad was the destination, Florida the geography. Little Man lied about getting a window seat, and said he was comfortable and that he was on his way.

I kept reading Rumi, sometimes looked out the window to catch a glimpse of downtown Denver. As we rolled out of the city, I thought about how I was reading the conclusion of this jaunt, about my life since January. Nearly half a year, more or less, on the road. I was looking forward to seeing my friends Dave and Jamie again. I was looking forward to a short respite, putting together my trip back out to Colorado to interview my uncle, and then south to winter on a beach in Port Charlotte. I was a little road weary, but worried that I would not be able to stay off the road long. I still had my bus pass and my driver's license.

"How long are you going to read that..." Little Man was looking at the back cover my my edition of The Essential Rumi ".. that bible?"


He must've taken hid cue from some of meant to look ornate and middle-eastern font on the back cover. He revised his question on the repeat though, probably figuring out that it wasn't a bible. Still, I was amused.

"How long are you going to read?"

"Until it's too dark."

"Are you tired?"


"Me neither."

He let me read a few more minutes.

"Where are we going?"

I pointed forward. "That way."

"I know that," he said. "What's... the street address?"

I told him I didn't know for sure, but that my transfer point was in Kansas City. I was really hoping his next question was not going to be Are we there yet?

Eventually it got dark and Little Man fell asleep.He had trouble getting comfortable, and wasn't big enough to be able to recline his seat. At one point, he was leaning on me, asleep. At first, I tried to wake him, shake him off.

"Hey, Kid," I said. "I'm not a pillow. Hey."

He shifted temporarily, but it didn't last long. I let him be. Mom didn't seem to give a shit as long as Little Man left her alone. He wasn't really bothering me. And... he was quiet.

The obnoxious driver behind me... who had just narrowly avoided being punched by his kid companion for making a comment about not letting his masquera run... told me I was a nice man for letting the kid sleep on me.

He didn't wake up until we got to Kansas City, and then only because I shook him a bit to wake him up. I knew from past experience that he Kansas City Station would be unbelievably crowded, since it was built for a much small capacity than actually runs through it. I also knew I'd pretty much only have time to find my line and wait to board the bus to Des Moines, Iowa, the next transfer point. I was beginning to double back on myself.

There wasn't a chance to tell Little Man goodbye or even ask his name. Once Mom was awake grumpily dragged him and his slightly older brother along to the next line, the next bus that would take them to Florida, to their Dad. I thought of the various times my daughter's mother and I had to engage in the exchange... The Kid visiting, having to meet often in the middle when state lines were involved...though the distance tended to favor my ex's dislike for long distance driving. From her perspective, I suppose it was better that The Kid be grumpy with me... no doubt, in her mind, part of my penance for leaving when I got tired of dodging frying pans.

Thanks for reading.  Remember, if you like what you're reading:


26 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Intermezzo: Call Me Noman (Erasure of Old Self)

Bismillah* your old self
to find your real name. - Rumi

I felt like a dying clown
But with a streak of Rin Tin Tin - The Who

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings!
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! - Percy Bysshe Shelley

It's not completely unheard of to lose your ass at a casino. I mean, it happens all the time. In any movie or television show set in Vegas, if there's a scene in a casino, you've seen someone acting like they've lost their ass. For every story you hear of someone winning at a casino -- it does happen because too much losing is bad for business -- there are countless people who lost their ass ... or more... because the house always wins.

What is, perhaps, a bit more unusual is to completely lose your identity.

Lost. Stolen. Some cosmic message in the form of a pickpocket. Whatever.

The day began on a simple premise. My friend Jamie is, apparently, something of a card sharpie at the blackjack tables and can turn a little bit of money into a slightly larger amount of money in a matter of hours. She wanted to go, partially to have something to do, but also so she could win some money to add to my travel fund.  A dear heart, really. She even offered to stake me some money so I could play myself.

Now, all lines being arbitrary... because, let's be honest, they mostly are... I told her I didn't like the idea of gambling with someone else's money. This, she thought, was completely ridiculous. It was no big deal, she maintained. If I lost my stake, she would be able to make it back. And if I happened to win, I count it as a contribution to the travel fund. And since all lines are, really, for the most part, arbitrary...

I thought, what the hell.

Now, I should also mention that while I am no expert at the game of Blackjack. I have some experience at it.  Actually, other than the horses, the game of 21 is my preferred method of itching the gambling urge. And while the money is nice, it's the adrenaline rush that tends to drive me in these situations. I like blackjack because not only is it an easy game to learn, but it also satisfies a certain egalitarian impulse: you always play against the house, not against your fellow players.

In theory. Apparently there's all sorts of things you can do to put the squeeze on your fellow players and press your own advantage. I will admit a certain ignorance regarding this sort of table etiquette. There are a a few often thought of "hard and fast" rules in how you play the came, like Hit on 16 and Stay on 17. But what they don't tell you is that those rules are as much to the houses's advantage as the odds on a Roulette Wheel. Yes, there are times when it's goo to hit on 16. There are also times when it's good to stay on 14. Because in spite of the seeming simplicity of the rules, the cars are still fickle, they're still shuffled, and they still behave in a random way.

I was doing okay for a while, and managed to a but more than double the stake Jamie had given me. Jamie was doing pretty well herself, for the most part, but she kept giving me advice... which was distracting her from her game. The table was pretty calm, a nice flow was going and the winning was spreading itself around... which is what, in the best of all situations, you can hope for. Then a high rolling Ethiopian, who played loud and nervous and talked smack to distract the order of the game, came and sat in the chair to my right, putting him on the dealer's left and in the first position for cards. I managed to win a few more deals, even getting a Blackjack (a face card and an ace) or two. The more I won, the more smack he talked. He was betting heavy, and had clearly had a number in mind he needed to hit in order to confirm his manhood.

I was up, and the Ethiopian started winning as well. Then he finally hit his number and left. A few more hands were dealt, Jamie was up, so was the other player at the table, and things were going pretty well.

And came The Cooler.

We cycled through two different dealers, both of whom did a good job of spreading the wealth around whenever possible. The third dealer, however -- a cold skinny bitch with fake eyelashes and a pre-teen's love of blue eye shadow -- killed the table almost immediately. And between here and other pre-teen who felt like he'd gained some experience at the $1 buy in tables (There's a 25 cent table fee with each hand. This means that in order to win $1, you have to pay $1.25. To win at all, you have to bet in $5 increments... which means you might as well find a $5 table. But it's good for the kiddies that don't want to feel like they're losing a lot and who never paid attention in math class.)

I lost my buffer and my stake pretty quickly. It was clear that Jamie wasn't finished, though so I told her I'd get some air and wait. 

I went outside and smoked. I could've smoked inside the casino, but it was nice day outside, and I wanted to sit outside and get away from the sound of the slot machines. One of the reasons casinos can afford to let people win at cards is because their money is in slot machines. And spare me the amazing stories of people who have won masses of cash sitting for hours sipping a mojito, smoking a carton of Virginia Slims, and squinting aggressively at the machine in front of them. The odds are always in the house's favor. Yes, they have to let people win so people will walk through the doors to lose and still feel like they had a reasonable chance. But if playing Blackjack is an egalitarian activity, owning a casino is akin to being a successful drug dealer. They ALWAYS come back.

So I smoked, I engaged in some constructive people watching, and felt pretty good. 

Then I noticed my journal was not in my back pocket where I had thought it was.

My first thought was: "I can't find my journal!"

Then I remembered: both my driver's license -- my only form of picture ID -- and my bus pass were in my journal as well.

Did I drop it? I thought about the last time I'd seen it. That was lunch.Sometimes I take it out and set it the table, along with my cell phone, when I eat. I went back to all the placed I'd been. I went to the casino restaurant were we ate lunch. They told me anything left at the table would have been turned into lost and found. I asked where that was located, and was told that I could talk to any white-shirted security officer and they would help me.

So I found the nearest rent-a-cop and described my journal, it's important contents, and asked if he could check. He did. There was nothing in lost and found matching the description. I back tracked every step I could remember. Nothing anywhere. Then I went to the parts of the casino I didn't even go to, around the slots where the wrinkled old ladies say smoking near tobacco-less cigarettes and sipping Diet Coke. Nothing. I found a second security guard. He checked over the radio. Nada. I went to find Jamie and found her at another table, doing very well. Between hands I asked if she had it... maybe, I thought, it slid out of my pocket when I left the table. She didn't have it, and gave the key to the car just in case it slipped out of my pocket there, which I was sure it hadn't.  It wasn't in the car.

At this point I asked another security guard and after the third check, I was sent to a house phone. Maybe some luck?

No. Zack, who was very apologetic, took down my contact information and said they'd call me if it turned up.

I ended up having to get Jamie to take me back to hers and Dave's place to see if maybe, just maybe I had forgotten it there. I knew I didn't because I don't forget my journal. Any one who knows me knows this about me.

Jamie said she had a good feeling, but I didn't share the sentiment. She felt bad because the casino had been her idea, but she didn't need to. Either I lost it because I wasn't paying attention, or it was stolen by someone who mistook it for a wallet or pocket book.

All they'd find is my nearly indistinguishable scrawls and scribbles, my bus pass, my Illinois Driver's License, and my IWW Red Card... which is behind on stamps because I haven't paid dues since hitting the road. Then it occurred to me that if it HAD been stolen, the most they could hope for was to steal my identity.

Let them try, I thought. My credit rating is so bad at this point they'll lose money trying to make it work. If some undocumented worker tried to steal my name for employment, even that record is spotty. Shit. Let 'em have the collectors and parasites that have my name on some list somewhere. Let 'em have my student loan debt.

I drank a beer, ate two cookies, and began to breathe. Yes, breathe. When people panic, usually the first thing they stop paying attention to is the one thing that, without it, they will not be alive. Air. There's a reason that every form of meditation there is begins with a breathing exercise of some kind. Breathing is fundamental. You can have water and food, but without air, it's meaningless. It's something I've fallen back on when I've been on the road and have to change my travel plans at the last minute. Like leaving St. Louis and going to Nashville. Like going to Colorado instead of Salt Lake City. Breathe. Adapt.

Losing my license and bus pass -- which only had a week left on it -- is not fundamentally different from any other change in plans. People place more importance on having photo ID because society is constantly insisting that we prove who we are, that we defend our right to belong, that we identify as one of the group and take our place among them, happy in our very specific anonymity.

I was annoyed at the loss of the journal, my notes since San Francisco, the various bits of poems I hadn't gotten a chance to type out. But I've been writing long enough to know there will always be more words, and the poems... well, they sometimes return of their own volition. As if they will themselves into being.

The universe has a funny way of sometimes giving you what you need when you don't know you need it. People sometimes enter and leave your life at just the right time. Relationships end so that new ones can begin. Although I love my family dearly, I have, over the years wondered what it might be like to have a different name. I have had different names over the years: Mickey, Mic, Michael, Mick, Quill, Papa. I have sought a way to bring the self within myself closer to the surface... to be who I am rather than what the culture dictates I ought to be.

And now, I am divested of my official identification... and in a way, my identity. I can call on a dozen people or more who could attest to my existence, and know me and who I am. There are people who love me, people who see me... truly see me. So, other than the inconvenience of occasionally being carded in a bar... usually by someone who looks 12 ... do I really need more proof of my own existence other than myself?

A name is a marker, nothing more. It separates us from others. Some believe our naming impacts who we become. But really, all a name does is tell others who are.... and who we are not. We attribute more to some names than others. Historical names. Rich names. Famous names. Infamous names. In the end, though, a name is nothing more than an utterance we have been trained since birth to respond to. Sons (many times) carry the last name of their father. Daughters (many times) carry that name unless they decide to get married and exchange it for another person's name. A name has been connected to notions of dependence and independence, to slave ownership, to heritage, to tradition, to the passing on of wealth and affluence, or -- at times -- the passing on of guilt, spite, hatred, and judgement.

What's the line by Shakespeare? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet?

Granted, in context, Mercutio is trying to convince Romeo to girl he's infatuated with and move on to some other more willing conquest. And then, of course, Romeo meets Juliet and turns into a dumbass.

Sorry. It's not a romantic play. It's farce. It's about how stupid young people can be, and how pointless family feuds are. It's not romantic to kill yourself because you didn't check to see if your girl is still breathing.

My point, though? I am no less who I am just because I can't prove it. In fact, it's possible that  I am more me now than at any time in my life. Ever.


*Bismillah: "In the name of god," spoken prior to a sacrificial slaughtering of an animal in the Sufi / Middle Eastern tradition.

25 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - The Denver Bug Out, Part 1 (End Times Polka)

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.  - The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Go here for media photos.
I sort of felt like I was getting out of Colorado Springs ahead of something terrible. The fires on the other side of Pike's Peak were slowly being contained -- in as much as they could be, given dry weather -- but there were reports of two fire bugs out setting fires on top of the ones that were already happening. The view of Pike's Peak had been hazy most of the time I was there, primarily because of smoke. As Cousin Mary was driving me into Denver so I could catch a bus to Kansas City and eventually, back through Minneapolis, heading eastbound into the Central Time Zone, the first wisps of smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire -- the first evidence of fire on the Colorado Springs side of Pike's Peak -- came into view. Her daughter Gabrielle lives there, so of course Mary calls her to make sure she knows about the smoke. 

Eventually, Waldo Canyon had to be evacuated, and Gabrielle, her boyfriend Zach, and their two cats had to spend the night at Mary and Ted's.  But I understand, as per Cousin Mary, the evacuation order has been lifted. The fire is moving closer to Woodland Park, a mountain community we drove through in the way to Cripple Creek. At this writing, as far as I know, there's been no definite evacuation order.

And while the rain that had been chasing me would have been a welcome boon, instead, I was pushed out by higher than average temperatures instead. 

Killing time in the Denver Station, I found myself watching one of the several televisions. They were all on the Weather Channel... which is at least tolerable and sometimes informative television.

I have images of my dad, sitting in front of the TV in the house in Pinhook, watching the the satellite maps. I remember thinking "What does it say about someone who can stare at something so BORING?" This, Dear Readers, is what becomes of you as you approach middle age. And the truth is, most television is insipidly useless anyway... and at least the Weather Channel isn't. Mostly. Though it doesn't replace knowing how to read the sky for rain.Or an arthritic knee.

In addition to the fires on the mountain, there was rain on three corners of the continental U.S., including a storm off the coast of Florida that might turn into a Hurricane. This was of particular interest since My Dear Sweet Ma and The Kid were off on some touristy adventure in the Bahamas.

The best part of the time spent in the bus station, though, was listening to the interpretation of events by other people waiting in bus station.. or in any case, they were hanging out there, having formed a circle of chairs near some tables in front of the restaurant, near the 19th Street Exit. Originally, the conversation started with politics: the merits versus the mendacity of stockpiling for the coming apocalypse. One of them. One favored stockpiling. Another favored the time honored approach of waiting on the Second Coming. Another, a younger one, ranted about the Mayan 2012 calender and the impending doom that will befall the Earth on December 21st, claiming that neither gun hording nor praying will save anyone.

"Look at that," he said, pointing at one of the televisions. "It's on the four corners of the Earth. What do you think THAT means? Huh?"

Other than you clearly didn't pay attention in geography class and don't realize that the Earth encompasses more than the continental United States? 

So much for youthful optimism. Then again, maybe it's like being relieved that you don't have to do laundry because the washer's broken. There's a sick blind optimism to hoping you're not responsible for the mess you've help make.

Personally, I think all this Mayan Calender business is a ploy by the Marketeers and Purveyors of Crap We Don't Need to get us to buy early Christmas presents. Fuck that bidness.

I finally got tired of listening, and of being within eye shot of the television. There was no point in me watching the screen, tracking whether Hurricane Debby would move east towards Florida and become a hurricane or move west towards Texas and become a tropical storm. Just like there's no point in worrying about meteors flying towards the Earth or whether the volcano that's under the western U.S. (Hello... geysers, people... think about it.) Will erupt someday. 

And they will... probably. Eventually. But worrying never fixed a damn thing, anyway. For now, breathe. Drink a beer. Eat a taco. Do something nice.

23 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Up on Cripple Creek (Colorado)

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one - The Band (1970)

...these adventurous characters, going out into a new country...where it would seem that at last all men would stand on equal footing, have suddenly discovered that amid these primitive surroundings the modern industrial system is... found at its worst. -William Hard, writing about 19th Century Colorado miners.

When I met my 95 year old  Uncle Dan  for the first time a few days ago and gave him the short and sweet version of what I've been doing -- pointing out, as I do whenever possible, that I am continually struck by the beauty I find as I travel -- he remarked "There's a lot of beauty to see. A lot that's ugly, too."

Leave it to a Parsons to say so much in so few words. 

Those of you who understand the irony of this statement, now is the time to guffaw. That's right. Guffaw.

This cell was used to house up to 6 men, sleeping on hammocks.
And Colorado is, like a lot of this part of the country, is simply stunning to see. Mary, my first cousin, drove me up into the mountains, up through the City of Woodland Park, towards Cripple Creek -- which has been wrested from decay by the legalization of casinos and the subsequent tourism which has swelled as a result. You lose  (or win) at a casino, you can look for free range donkeys, you can walk up and down the main drag, look at the plaques on the buildings, buy ice cream, trinkets, toys, take a tour of the old jail... which really isn't that old, since it was last used in 1994. That's the year my daughter was born. She is 17 years old. I suppose it could be argued that metal boxes never go out of style and that prisoners should'n't be spoiled too much. I mean, after all, it's guilty until proven innocent, right? Make the bastards suffer. And the bitches, too, for that matter. The women's cells were upstairs... only two of them, along with a room for the Matron and a separate cell for children who were arrested. The women prisoners -- who, as far as I could tell, were mostly arrested for prostitution or other unladylike behavior -- did get a window view of the street, as well as a private  toilet and access to a bath tub. Still a metal box, though. with no heat in the winter, no respite from the heat in the summer.

The other thing that stuck out to me -- probably because the plaques describing them were included in the jail tour, is the labor history in Cripple Creek: like the 1894 Miner's Strike and the subsequent Colorado Labor Wars.  The 1894 Strike started because miners were fighting an enforced 10 hour work day. It was a violent strike, and it cemented the reputation of the Western Federation of Miners as a violent group. During the Labor Wars, which ran from 1901 to around 1904, were also violent, and included both the use of state militia, the National Guard under the command of Adjunct General Sherman Bell (who has a building with his name on it) and mercenaries like the Pinkertons, and the Baldwin-Felts. 

If you're a student of history, you might notice that the Haymarket Square Bombing -- for which four men, including Albert R. Parsons, were unjustly hanged -- occurred a few years prior the Cripple Creek Strike. (The Pinkertons were there, too. Notorious fuckers, the lot of them.)

I tend to get stuck on stories like this. Stories like that tend to be glossed over for the sake of tourism, and for the sake of revising some corporate entity's sense of guilt. And by corporate, I mean the government, I mean any governing body empowered by The State,  I mean the mining company that put profit above the safety of workers, and I mean anyone -- including the WFM, long defunct -- who resorts to violence. But mostly I mean the government, governing bodies, and mining companies.

I tend to get stuck on stories like this because there are always stories that aren't being told, that aren't being exploited for tourist dollars, that aren't left to history books that no one except historians read.

I actually had a nice time wandering around the town, because 1) I'm a history junkie and 2) I love small towns with a sense of character, some sense of self. And, as my cousin Mary pointed out, there's more history there than can be learned in one visit. I'm finding that for the most part, that's true of every place I've been since January. There is never enough time, and always more stories to hear.

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21 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Whim of the Great Magnet (Rocky Top, You'll Always Be)

Live in the nowhere that you came from
even though you have an address here. - Rumi

Ask the dust on the road!. -John Fante

After buying a $1 cup of coffee from the Mcdonalds in the Plaza Hotel -- which cost me $1.08 with tax -- I had exactly 19 cents to my name. Sitting in the Las Vegas bus depot... which is shamefully void of slot machines -- I had to consider my options carefully. In addition to that 19 cents I had a 12 ounce bottle of water, and a partial bag of trail mix that I knew would see me though.

I hoped.

Of course, the reason for my presence in Sin City's bus terminal... which, contrary to what people might think, has none of the glamorous odor of piss and astroglide (I FINALLY figured it out!) parfume of the L.A. bus terminal... instead of being on a bus headed for the Mormon's version of Eden on Earth, Salt Lake City -- was because Phoeinx simply did not want to let me leave.

No. Really.

The 10:15 pm bus leaving Phoenix was full. The bus driver, Carlos, informed us that if we closed the air vents located above the seats near the reading lights that the bus would catch fire. To be fair, it was an older bus. Since heading west from St. Louis, I have given up expecting a ride on one of the newer, glimmering buses they advertise with more leg room, electric outlets and free WiFi. (And while the outlets are great, the WiFi is spotty, the seats are actually a little less comfortable, and the overhead storage compartments are smaller.) Other than the possibility of fire, the air didn't work and the bus creaked like it was held together by duck tape.

All I wanted to do was sleep. For all I cared, the bus could've been made of duct tape and plastic wrap.

My planned destination: Salt Lake City. Why? Why wonder why? I wanted to visit the state that killed Joe Hill. I wanted to see if I could see any trace of the myth that Utah Phillips spoke of in his stories and songs. I wanted to scare some Mormons. I wanted see if I could snag some of that magic underwear, since I thought it might come in handy.

Why the hell not?

The bus made it as far as Glendale before Carlos pulled the bus over. Not a good sign. He puts the bus in park, hops out, and walks around the back of the bus. A few minutes later, he comes back.

"I've just spoken to Dallas," he said. The tone was ominous. Official sounding. Or, attempting to sound official sounding. "The back lights on the bus aren't working," he went on. "So we're turning around and going back to Phoenix Station to resolve it."

People were muttering, annoyed, guffawing. People are on their cell phones. I hear various versions of the same one-sided conversation. "This is SOME KINDA BULLSHIT!"

Then, as if we all didn't know it, he said "You can consider this schedule [pause for what? Dramatic effect?] delayed."

Walking back into the station was anti-climactic, but I wasn't too worried. I'm in no particular hurry, really. Whether I sleep on a bus in the dark then, or an hour from then, didn't matter to me. I was sure there,d be a bus to Salt Lake City in Las Vegas. I mean, Mormons gamble too, right?

Two hours later, the bus was apparently repaired, and we reboarded and headed out into the darkness. It still creaked like it was held together by tape and I was mindful of the vent, to avoid any fires.

By the time we reached Vegas, the sun was up and I was only slightly rested. The bus had managed to fill up, my phone battery was dead, and the air... which is supposed to be cooler when the engine is hot... wasn't. It was already hot, and I had missed the 7:55 to Salt Lake by nearly 2 hours. The next one would not leave until 9:30 that night. Not quite 12 hours. But close enough to be annoying.

Then I noticed there was a 3:15 to Denver.

My cousin Mary lives around there, somewhere. She's the daughter of my dad's older brother, Daniel, who is still alive, and who, up to that point, I had never met face to face. The Parsons' are an independent, quixotic lot. At least, my branch of the family is. And from what I can tell, from those I have met, and from the research -- genealogical and otherwise -- we tend to chose our own way through the world, regardless of whether it's the easiest, or seemingly the wisest.

I had thought I might make my way through Colorado on my Westward Jaunt, meet my cousin and my uncle. What had kept me away up to that point was a series of direction changes and ... to be honest ... the fact that every time I  saw a television report about Colorado, it involved apocalyptic fires and floods.

Considering my options, I plugged in my phone at the barely adequate charging station and sent a message to my cousin. A change in course didn't bother me. But I didn't want to make it a last minute one that would annoy or inconvenience  family I barely knew and had never met.  The possibility of meeting my Uncle Dan -- who, like my father and my Grandpa Parsons, had reached near mythic heights in my imagination -- stuck in my mind. To shake the hand of a man who was as close to my own father as I could meet as an adult, to get a glimpse into his life... his real life... was worth risking the apocalypse that seemed to be hitting The Centennial State.

I heard back from Mary in short order. She told me I was more than welcome to stop through for a couple of days.

I checked the schedule to Denver, and made sure of the exit gate and time. It would leave Vegas at 3:05 and arrive around 7 the following morning.

It was at that point that I wandered out into the street, and found my way to a cup of cheap, but welcome, cup of coffee.