Showing posts with label Homo Viator. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homo Viator. Show all posts

07 June, 2012

Homo Viator (At The World's Edge): Ferlinghetti's Gambit, Part 2

[I'm in transit, on a 15 hour burn to Phoenix. The bus, as far as L.A. anyway, is the first bus outfitted with electric outlets and WiFi since St. Louis.  Thank GAWD. Sometimes, Dear Reader, the universe is kind. Take care to keep that in mind, even when it's not.]

The poetry section didn't disappoint. A lot of familiar names, like Montale, Vaca, Auden.  The  names you'd expect: Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso.

Corso. I taught Corso in writing workshops at the drug and alcohol rehab at the Cincinnati VA. Those crusty old bastards ate him up. Couldn't get enough.

The rocking chair looked entirely too comfortable not to sit in. Those old rocking chairs are like that; they get some wear and tear. Some love, some care. They take on a character and a personality all of their own; they can become a defining factor in any space they inhabit or any space they are removed from. That it was labeled -- perhaps sardonically -- "Poet's Chair" added to the look, but didn't scare me off. My feet were starting to scream from inside my boots and a few minutes repose with a little bit of poetry seemed in order to me.

And besides, I thought. If there's some stupid rule about not sitting in the chair unless your Ferlinghetti -- perish the un-egalitarian thought, but hell, it's his shop he can piss in the non-fiction section if he wants to -- then it was a good start to achieving my goal.

I chose a collection by Auden -- As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse -- and flipped through to "Letter to Lord Byron, Part 1." Auden is one of those poets I came to only maybe in the last 10 years or so. Formal, disarmingly and deceptively light, he gets passed over often. It probably helps that he's not only a Brit, but something of a Socialist... and since we don't even like to read our OWN Reds, Ballad, let alone those from across the pond, Auden is continually ignored in a culture that prefers to ignore homegrown poets regardless of their politics. 

Such a funny poem. The speaker is a young poet, writing contemporarily, to Byron. And since Byron is, of course, long dead, the speaker is able to imbue the Romantic Bard with all sorts of characteristics... including making him a bosom buddy: someone with whom  the speaker can relate, pontificate, and try out his ideas on. 

In short, Byron is in artist's hell. 

While I was sitting there, reading, resting my feet, enjoying a cozy corner next to a small window with west coast light pouring,  another person perusing the shelves asked in what I thought was a British accent "Do you charge tax for books in America?"

"Yes," I reported grimly. "They do. Why do you think I'm sitting here reading it?"

"That's a good plan." he said, taking his prospective purchases downstairs.

There was another person up there, an older, balding man in a blue shirt and tie. He stuck to the poetry criticism section. I wanted to smack him with Leaves of Grass, but the copies weren't handy, being on the other side of the room.

After a while, though, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard anything. There was some office kid sliding in and out of a nondescript door between the stairwell and the bookcase of Beat Poetry anthologies. Bu no grumbly old poets. The closest I could get was thumbing through one of his books -- a newer collection published by City Lights as part of a series on San Francisco poets.

As I went back downstairs, I quickly pondered my options. I could cause a ruckus and run the risk of the sourly bald register jockey calling the cops... who would, I'm sure, arrive promptly and not trample my civil liberties. Or, I could leave defeated.

I looked around one more time to see if I could catch some glimpse of the man. I noticed a closet under an alcove, it was open, full of books yet to be stocked. There had been a hand written sign in large black letters:


Couldn't have said it better myself.

In the end, I didn't get to be told to fuck off by one of my few living literary heroes. 

But I got to read Auden, and sit in a comfy rocking chair, and breathe in the same space as Corso, McClure, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and  Bukowski. And, of course, Ferlinghetti... who remains as much a mystery to me as, well... most mysteries.

Homo Viator (At the World's Edge): Ferlinghetti's Gambit, Part 1

It was a simple yet elegant plan.

My intention was to find the City Lights Bookstore, bask in the literary mecca of any and everyone who has read The Beats, and in the process, get Ferlinghetti to tell me to fuck off. The chances of that aren't nearly as far off as you might think; after all, City Lights Bookstore has been in the same location at the edge of Chinatown since it opened in 1953. In addition to being a fully functional bookstore -- where one can still go in order to buy books -- it's also a place where literary things continue to happen. It's also the home base for City Lights Books, which continues to publish interesting stuff even though it's been suggested that people don't really read anymore.

And in addition to that, City Lights Co-Founder and literary juggernaut Lawrence Ferlinghetti is almost as famous for being a crank as he is for being a poet/publisher/ independent book store proprietor.


Before striking out from the hostel late in the morning this morning, I asked the girl at the front desk about the best bus route to City Lights. I had a pretty good idea, having done a little research before I hit town, but I wanted to make sure my thinking on the matter correct, that there wasn't some change in the bus schedule that hadn't made it to the internet, and that I could find it without getting too lost.

She recommended that I walk there. She assured me she did it all the time and that it usually took her a half hour.Her directions took me straight through the heart of Chinatown. Naturally, I assumed it would take me longer to walk up Larkin to Geary, and then up Geary to Stockton... which would lead me through Chinatown and eventually to the mecca.

Let me point out that today was a beautiful day. I didn't mind the walk, and it would save me money not having to pay for bus fare.

China town was an amazing experience, a cacophony of smells, and people. The produce markets had people sometimes 3 or 4 deep, and all kinds of chatter. Crowds of people moving, or not moving. At one point, even before I walked through the Stockton Street tunnel that was the official boundary for Chinatown, I wasn't sure I had even the slightest clue where I was going. And I had a map, kindly provided by the very polite desk person at the hostel. Between that and the fact that San Fran is an easy city to walk around in, and an interesting one, too. All of the rail stations I ran across had easy to read maps with YOU ARE HERE red dots on them.  In addition, because the city is, in it's heart, an old port city -- the grand version of the river towns I grew up around -- it's not as economically or racially segregated. (Note: NOT AS.) In Little Saigon and the surrounding neighborhood, where the hostel is, there are countless residential motels, slums, dives, and shops, all buttressed up against high class hotels meant to attract tourists. Workaday people, artists (usually identified either by mod black attire or some version of Goodwill Hippie throw back), tourists, street folk, hookers, druggies, pimps, and various Others all share the same space... mostly by ignoring and occasionally sneering. Particularly at the street folk. The warm weather and the hope of secretly class conscious tourists make the city a natural haven. Some people blame the 60's. I blame the wind off the bay.  Walking through anyplace is the best way to get to know a place, and San Francisco is a romantic city to wander in...romantic in the way that only something old, something new, something ugly, and something beautiful can smash together and create.

After I found City Lights, it took me a minute or two to catch my breath before I walked in.  The neatly put together San Franny behind the register didn't acknowledge me. I walked in started perusing books. I found the Bukowski right away... in several languages.  That was all fiction, though.

What I wanted, what I needed... was poetry.

I had long wearied of trying to find a respectable poetry section in any book store anywhere.  I knew that if anyone would have a poetry section worth slowing down and looking into, it would be Ferlinghetti -- the man, the myth, the poet, the publisher, the rank asshole among living poetry legends.

I'm going to have to finish this on on the road, Dear Readers. My time in the city that inspired Daschiell Hammett is done. I'm heading east again, towards The Valley of the Sun.

If you like this, remember:

  2. DONATE TO THE TRAVEL FUND (I'm running low again, so this would be GREATLY appreciated, Thank Ye Gawd Bless Ye and Yer Childrun's Childrun.)

06 June, 2012

Homo Viator: (At The World's Edge): San Francisco Lines

It is an odd thing, but every one who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world. -- Oscar Wilde

San Francisco from the bridge
To no one's surprise, it rained copiously the day I left Eugene. Even though it was temperate and mostly warm for the entire week, the weather gods chose Monday, the day of my departure, to unleash a minor torrent.

Take that, road ready traveler. See if you can stay dry for that.

This leg of the trip was one with the buses mostly crowded. I was able to stretch out and enjoy the adjoining Only once between Eugene and Sacramento. A lot of people are on the move, I've noticed, as I've gone further and further west. And while I have run across a few nomadic souls here and there, mostly I'm running into people who are on the move because they have to be. Like the guy behind me who boarded in Medford who was headed for L.A. to attended a funeral for a bouncer friend of his who had been beaten to death. There have also been more than a few who are on the road because they recently got out from under parole restrictions, and some who are choosing to run in spite of them.

That shouldn't overshadow the large number people I run into who are looking for work... or who are just looking. Not vacationing... though I'm sure in some other place, say an airport terminal, or even on an Amtrak, I would find people who are off in search of that perfect hyper-real experience, that photo-fury experience of standing in front of things and moving from standing in one line to standing in a dizzyingly similar one.

After a four hour layover in Sacramento, I  made it to San Francisco around 9:30 in the morning, Left Coast Time.  After getting turned around, and then figuring out that the city is painfully easy to get around in on foot... there are maps at bus and subway stations that provide a Big Red Dot signifying You Are Here... I found my digs for the night... a friendly looking hostel located in Little Saigon.... which required me to walk through Little Harlem and The Little Latin Quarter (neither of which were provided lamp post banners to signify or make them stand out. Imagine that.) That allowed me somewhere to leave my rucksack and gave me a chance to wander around the neighborhood a bit, where, not surprisingly, I found a nice little bar, The Brown Jug, that maintained a goats head above the mahogany back bar, a nice broken down 1950's atmosphere, and a $5.00 beer and shot special.

After two those, Dear Readers, I found my legs a bit more solid, even if my feet were on the sore side.

03 June, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a grand day for American Justice.

30 May, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) The Rash, Part 2

Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces. -- Marcel Proust 

It's a beautiful tale, and today is a beautiful day without any bugs.  -- Hugo Pratt

To say I didn't sleep well would be an understatement. Not being familiar with how to cope with having a peanut allergy, I naturally stayed up most of the night in that less than optimal motel chair thinking of all the possible long term impacts of having a newly acquired one.

First and foremost: WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO EAT?

Trail mix -- and hence, peanuts -- are a staple of my traveling diet. I try and make sure to get something resembling a real meal -- once a day -- when I'm stopping over night. It doesn't even have to be anything fancy... though I try and avoid fast food. The truth is, I'd rather have soup beans and a hunk of bread than a Whopper.

But without trail mix to tide me over, I'd have to get creative. REALLY creative. Because with a peanut allergy, it's not just about food that has peanuts or is made from peanuts.

Like peanut butter. Fuck! Don't get me started on how traumatic it would be to be denied peanut butter.  

That would also knock potato chips, corn chips, pretzels. A lot of snack foods... because even if there are no peanuts in whatever Food X happens to be, it could have been made in the same area where some Food Y with peanuts in it was prepared. Also, if peanut oils or extracts are involved, I would still have to avoid said Food X.

Second: I COULD DIE.

Sure, now it was a simple rash. But the next time my esophagus could close up and my face could blow up like a Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of a hobo.

After all, weren't the Pilgrims nothing more than vagabond with a vague destination in mind? Get on a boat until you see land? Really? How is that not being a bum?

Dying on the road would, in my opinion, be far less satisfying, if it happened because of something incredibly absurd or ironic. Dying from a heretofore non-existent food allergy? Me? That's up there with being run over by a bus because you're too busy thinking about some story or poem or something. (Sorry Victor Hugo. But's that was a stupid way to go.)


Ok, I wasn't really worried about that. 

But in deference to My Dear Sweet Ma, who really did try and raise me right by attempting to instill in me some sense of common decency -- which, I might add, is totally lost on me by no fault of hers, my father's, or the societal structure I am in the process of extricating myself from -- 

I thought I should mention it.


Specialized foods cost money. Ask anyone who tries to buy healthy groceries and not the deep fried pig slop find on sale at every grocery store in America.  Then there's the spectrum of specialized foods that, in spite of having FEWER INGREDIENTS actually COST MORE.

Welcome to one aspect of the global food scam. Bend over, fork over your debit card, and thank them for robbing you and keeping you healthy... ish. If you don't believe there's scam afoot go to Google (not now) and look up the following terms:

  • ADM

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, but it was not restful. And when I woke up the following morning, it was snowing. And cold. And I had to walk through it, into the wind, to get to the bus station, which was also cold, and technically not open for another 4 hours. Luckily the waiting area was open -- but the air conditioning was on instead of the heat and sitting inside was only moderately warmer than sitting outside. So I was cold, wet, having to wait until 7 that evening for a bus. I was also hungry. But since I didn't know what to eat, and had spent more on my  night's lodging than I really could afford to spend, anything of substance or lacking substance was out of the question.

I wasn't even sure I could eat a hot pocket. And I don't even really like hot pockets.

Eventually I was able to buy a cup of coffee, thank gawd. And the bus did eventually arrive. I decided to speed up my trip to Eugene, Oregon... where I wasn't expected for another week by Grindbone brother, fellow writer, and future Top 10'er on America's Most Wanted hit list, Noah S. Kaplowitz and his extremely patient girlfriend, Becca. I sent Kap a text -- while the battery on my phone was still holding out -- and told him the situation. He told me to come on ahead to Eugene, Oregon and to drink plenty of water.

In short, don't panic.

What the fuck? Doesn't he KNOW me? Of course I panic. I just do it QUIETLY.

I'm actually pretty laid back. Until I'm not. And somewhere on the bus, rolling in the darkness trying to live on water and fruit pilfered from the free "Continental Breakfast" that morning, It wasn't working. I like fruit, don't get me wrong... even semi-not-quite moldy fruit. At a short stop, somewhere between Butte and Spokane -- the first transfer point -- I decided to buy what was traditionally a favorite traveling junk food:

Combos. Pretzel and cheese. None of the fake flavored shit.

It wasn't until I started eating them that I realized there was a very real possibility that I was eating something infected, in some way, with peanuts. 


So I stopped eating, chugged some water, and waited to die.

My eyes were getting heavy, but I didn't want to go to sleep. I was waiting for signs of the rash to kick into high gear, for my throat to close, or for my head to swell.  Kap was texting me regularly, Jewish mother that he is, making sure I didn't asphyxiate in the dead of night in the back of a bus. I ended up having to turn off my phone, though, because the battery was draining entirely too fast. There was no one sitting next to me; so, in the event that I DID die alone in the dark on a Greyhound bus that had no outlets for me to plug in my cell ... in the event that I wanted to make any last minute gasping phone calls or listen to my favorite song before I kicked off.

I woke up when the bus driver announced that we were pulling into Spokane. I felt my face. 

Would I be able to tell if my eyes were nearly swollen shut?

I figured that if I couldn't tell that one of the women on the bus, upon seeing my Elephant Man visage, would scream in horror.

No one said a word.

The bus schedule was such that I only had 10 minutes. That gave me time to piss and look at my face in the bathroom mirror.

I still looked like me. I walked down to the handicapped stall, closed and locked the door, set my pack in a corner and pulled down my pants to check the rash.

It was fine. 

I took another look at the rash. The redness on my knees was fading and I noticed the tiny little bites centered on my right knee, coming down from my leg, near where the ragged hem of my boxers sat.


Bed bugs. Before Butte I spent a couple of days in an affordable (cheap with hourly, daily, and weekly rates) motel in Rapid City -- The Lewis and Clark Inn. The Lewis and Clark in is the sort of place where you don't have to worry about using a black light to check for disgusting things on the bed covers; you're better off assuming they're there and being very careful about removing them. There was also no need to worry about the temperature of the room, since the central air didn't work. There was also no need to worry about the television being too loud, since the volume button was broken, and no need to worry about setting the drapes on fire since there weren't any.

But it was a smoking room. 

I must've been bitten in my sleep. 

The nice thing about traveling on the cheap is that you occasionally run into indigenous wildlife: cops, drug dealers, hookers,  bed bugs. Roaches, even. No roaches at the Lewis and Clark, thank gawd. No cops, either, from what I noticed. I assumed the others without looking for them.

By the time I got to Eugene, I was exhausted. I walked off the bus and into the station. Kap was leaning against the door frame of the Pearl Street exit... as far as I could tell, the only exit there was... looking like he needed to smoke a cigarette. We greeted one another:

Me: "You really ARE swarthy aren't you?"

Kap: "I thought you'd be shorter."

He handed me a cup of lukewarm gas station coffee and an apple. Then we walked out to the minivan, where Becca was waiting. Before we pulled off into the afternoon streets of Eugene, Oregon, Kap turned around and gave me something else to eat:

a small bag of salted peanuts.

28 May, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse): The Rash, Part 1

'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes. -- Henry David Thoreau

A thick skin is a gift from God. -- Konrad Adenauer

Traveling can teach you to be calm, how to handle things, and what you can and can't handle. At the onset, it's not unusual to feel hearty; to feel, on some level, like you can handle most anything. You feel some kinship to the settlers, sojourners, pilgrims, and travelers of old. You realize that there are some things you can't plan for; but you also know... you know, like you know what your belly button lint smells like, that you can handle anything.

There's also quite a bit about traveling that feast or famine. When you have money, you let yourself live a bit more comfortably. Plan it out, be thrifty, be cheap, whatever...  it's important to make what nickles and dimes you have stretch a bit more, last a little longer. This means ferreting out the cheapest accommodations possible. It may mean, depending on your background, adjusting what you consider to be your minimum requirements. But it's also important to allow yourself a the comfort of a bed when you can.

 (Note: if room service is something you require, you are not a traveler. You're a tourist. If, on the other hand, you consider having not to share a communal shower a luxury -- hell, if you consider having any shower at all a luxury -- you're a bit closer to what it means to be Out and About.)

By the time I reached Butte, I was past thinking about the Lewis and Clark Inn (with NEWLY RENOVATED ROOMS... and if you believe that I have some water front properties on Mars for sale) and focused on what was ahead of me... Butte. I wasn't sure where I was going to sleep, but I had faith in my ability to find affordable accommodations.

After arriving in Butte, and finding shelter -- which cost me more than I wanted to pay, and more than I really could have afforded -- I had to rush and settle in for Grindbone Narrowcast 52. After the narrow cast, I stripped out of my road clothes, turned on the television, and tried to relax a bit before trying to do some writing and go to sleep.

I was stretched out on the bed in my boxers, flipping through channels and trying to find The Weather Channel, when I noticed my that my legs. Specifically my knees. They were red. Rash red. And the rash -- or whatever it was had spread up the inside of my legs.

Now, keep in mind. I don't get rashes. I had bad allergies when I was a kid... or, at least, an asthma doctor convinced my parents that everything from pollen and dust to X my stuffed owl and the carpet in my bedroom could kill me. But I've never had odd reactions to any food, to scents, shampoos, deodorants, fabrics, cleansers, or anything. Ever. My eventually-to-be ex's step-mother is hypersensitive to chemicals and dyes in everything from perfume to deodorant, and handled it by learning to make her own using plants from her garden.

(That shit, works, by the way. The problem is that we're a culture that so afraid of germs, so inoculated from what people smell like -- the dizzying impact of pheromones, the musky sweaty odors that are as much a proof of our humanity as the opposable thumb and enlarged pre-frontal lobe -- that we mistake something sensual for something sick, and something necessary to our existence... because gradual exposure to germs does actually help build resistance to those germs... as food and shelter.)

But I'm not someone who HAS that sort of toxic sensitivity. I couldn't think of where I got rash. The first thing I did was go and take a shower, making sure to clean the area of the rash. That seemed to help.

That didn't tell me where the rash came from though. I began by thinking about what changes have occurred in my life.

My residential status is a given. But that, in and of itself, means nothing.

I thought about my diet.  Traveling as I've been doing has impacted my diet. Although I try and make sure to get at least one  solid meal a day when I'm in one place for more than a day, when I'm in between I limit myself to liquids, crackers, and trail mix.

Trail mix. Trail mix.


I'm not sure how the idea of a peanut allergy occurred to me. Like I said, I'm not allergic to food. I don't like beets, and I suspect that eating them might kill me in some existential sense. But I'm not ALLERGIC to them.

What the fuck am I going to eat if I can't eat trail mix? 

A peanut allergy could unhinge a lot of things. A LOT. It would mean having to pay more to find something to eat... especially since nearly everything either has peanuts in it or is made with some derivative of peanuts. Even a lot of potato chips are made using peanut oil.

I was also worried about maybe some contact infection. Maybe the detergent the motel used to wash the sheets. This made me paranoid to lay down, even though I was exhausted. All I could do was sit in a chair, which, thankfully, had arms on it, and try and relax. I've slept sitting up on buses, after all, right? This should be easy, right?

I forced myself to stay awake and make sure that I was still breathing, that some come from behind respiratory problem wasn't going to kill me.

How would that play out?

Anonymous Homeless Man [REDUNDANT] Found Dead in Motel Room, Clutching a Book of Rumi and Holding a Bag of Peanuts.

I dismissed that thought almost as soon as it entered my head. Silly vagabond. Headlines are for important people.

25 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) Look for me in Butte

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. - Proverbs 4:7

Tell me, O Swami of the water, what is the essence of life? BORROWED, saith he.  - William Least Heat-Moon

Street corner in Livingston, MT
It's snowing in Butte this morning. Most of my winter experience has been thankfully mild; some biting winds in D.C., Norfolk, and New York, a slight dusting in Ashland, KY. Lots of rain and threats of rain, this weather chasing me all over the country.  Every once in a while it catches up to me, and here, it seems, the weather has. But it's also going to be all of 40 degrees today... so warm enough for the snow not to stick. But annoying enough that I'll notice when I walk to the bus station in a few hours.

I'm here, waiting until the last minute to check out, under the watchful gaze of Our Lady of the Rockies, in the foothills of the Continental Divide. The further west you go -- regardless of whether you're in the northern part of the continent or in the southwest -- the landscapes become incredibly stark, lovely, and potentially unforgiving. One of the differences, though, is that people generally move to the desert ... especially southern Arizona ... with the intention -- whether they know it or not -- of erasing it. Erasing it with irrigation keeping grass that has no business in the East Valley alive. Erasing it with cement, with strip malls, with neon lights. Erasing what they think is nothing and replacing it with what truly is nothing.

In the northern part -- South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana in particular -- there's a pervading sense that if anything is going to get erased, it is people. The landscape between the towns and cities stretch into an illusory infinity, running out to greet a horizon that seems so close, yet so far away. Close enough to touch, but just far enough away to keep you moving forward.

Erasure -- or attempts at it -- comes in many forms. In this part of the country its come in the form of mining, of logging, and commercialization. The view from my hotel window demonstrates this as clear as anything. The highway (that brought me here and that will take me hence); gas stations, over-priced hotels (like this one), store front casinos, quickie marts. Beyond that commercialization coalescing around interstate exits and by-passes, on the left, is an old strip mine that's now a quarry. To the left: the mountains, reaching up through the low lying condensation that is evaporating into low lying clouds that will  keep the temperature cool and threaten rain for the rest of the day.

Sometimes erasure happens quickly. Most of the time, it doesn't. That human beings have more or less perfected the process (Biological and nuclear weapons, for example. Clear cutting forests, taking the top off mountains, and pollution are others.) doesn't change the fact that erasure is, in some ways a natural process. Erosion is a form of erasure. Ice ages. Volcanic eruptions. The slight tiling of the Earth's axis. The slow burning out of the sun. The big bang. The expanding and contracting universe. 

There's a real sense of gradual change in the west that's more obvious than in the east. The east coast is littered with towns and cities that worship their history -- a history washed with sentimentalism and driven by commercialism. Classic architecture butting up against cold modern and post modern design, architecture destroyed for the sake of preservation. The west has this mix of stubbornness in the face of inevitable change, historical revision in the name of commercial greed and tourism, and an underlying apathy about engaging with the world at all. That's not uncommon in rural areas. Farmers are, for the most part, stoic people who do what they do because it's what they've always done... and they will only change when it's clear what they do no longer works. Or when they're not given a choice. 

The Socialist Hall on Harrison Ave in Butte, built in 1916.
Butte is a city full of history... early mining and foresting, a history of unionism and radicalism... that is being erased as part of the drive to make it a tourist destination. The Socialist Hall on Harrison Avenue is one such example. I'd be willing to bet the building is listed on some historical register, otherwise some All Too Patriotic American would have lobbied to have it torn down. And since it couldn't be torn down, and the VFW wouldn't move into, someone did the next best thing. 

In T.S. Eliot at 101, Cynthia Ozick says that "knowledge -- saturated in historical memory -- is displaced by information, of memory without history: data." She wrote that in 1989; and if it was true then (I believe it was) it's more than true now. We're losing history to data, memory to information. 

The worst part of this kind of erasure -- the tragedy of it all -- is that while it is avoidable... we can choose to pay attention, we can choose to see, we can choose memory over information and history over data... it seems we're too busy trying to figure out how to be copy other people's lives and call that happiness.  We forget the important lessons and remember the transitory ones.

I have had to remember this myself. It's a wonderfully soulful realization.

Thanks for reading!   If you like what you read:

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  2. Donate to the Travel Fund. It helps me pay for cheap shelter when I'm between couches, for nourishment. Thanks to those who have donated (gawd bless!) and thanks to those who will. 

23 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) - Leaving Rapid City

A fire has risen above my tombstone hate.
I don't want learning, or dignity,
or respectability. -- Rumi

Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, and from the opening of my lips will come right things. - Proverbs 8:6

A beacon in the night... that wasn't as far a hoof as Super 8
Thanks to some welcome movement in the Travel Fund  (gawd bless!) I was able to afford a room The Lazy U Motel. After a few beers and getting some directions from a baby-faced blonde bartender who didn't get a Pete Rose reference (there was a picture of him, from his Big Red Machine Days, right behind her above the beer taps) and who used The Glenlivet to mix a concoction meant to make another patron puke, I left and walked up Mt. Rushmore Avenue towards a motel. My original intention had been to stay at a Super 8... cheapish with free WiFi.

I was glad I stopped at the Lazy U. Cindy and Verlyn cut me a break by letting stay one night and then switching rooms while letting me pay single rate for a double room.

Apparently, in addition to being the largest city nearest to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, Rapid City is also known as The City of Presidents. To prove this fact, they have bronze statues of past Presidents on street corners downtown. I found William H. Taft standing on a corner in front of an Irish Pub.

(This version of him is the kinder, gentler version. Other than being from Cincinnati, the only thing that made Taft at all remarkable is that he's remembered for getting stuck in a bath tub.)

I noticed one other thing about Rapid City:

Now, if you have any experience at all with casinos... in Vegas, Atlantic City, the res casinos near Phoenix... you haven't had experience with these kinds of places. Apparently in the part of the country, all you need to open a casino is a storefront and a snappy marketing campaign.

Now I'm not above laying a bet... anyone who knows me knows I love the horses, and I'm not afraid of a blackjack table. Casinos and hospitals are made to suck people in; these storefront casinos were all up and down Mt. Rushmore Street, like dingy toadstools.

Of course, you should give people what they want, I suppose. So it's hard to know which came first... lonely old ladies with pension checks or the casinos that open their arms to them, their money, their loneliness.

I was hoping to visit the Black Hills... because I wanted to get away. Away from the cement, away from the strip malls and storefront casinos. It's hard for me to embrace the commercialism littering the landscape -- and the principals underlying it -- when I run into people time and again who are riding across country, just trying to survive.

I checked out of the motel and walked downtown. I was going to go back to Sanford's and drink dollar beer, but I came across the Oasis Lounge. I decided to stop in and have a drink.

The place was dead; but it was also 2 in the afternoon. On the other hand, that meant it was 5 pm in Kentucky and well past cocktail hour. The Oasis is a dive bar gone classy... sort of. Round green bar stools growing out of the ground, private tables for more intimate conversations, and pool tables with worn but well cared for felt. The bartender was a tired old biker wearing a Sturgis
pen on his leather vest. He walked like he was in a lot of pain, but he poured a full shot of bourbon and didn't pay me much mind at first.

After the second round he sat down, holding his coffee cup like a Jewish Refuge. He started talking about a documentary watched the previous night about the shooting of Ronald Reagan. We talked about the shooting -- I remember it, watching it being replayed on the nightly news. Even as a kid I knew that Reagan was a lousy President -- there was far too much proof around me of the failure of trickle down economics --  but I also realized, even then, that shooting anyone... a President or anyone else... because you didn't like their point of view (or because you think an actress is telling you to because you're fucking crazy)... didn't make any sense.

This is a school yard lesson. Someone hits you because they don't like something about you. You hit back. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. Nothing changes except your knuckles are sore and you may have a black eye.

I guess it's fair to say I considered pacifism as a logical approach before I even really understood what it meant.

Never underestimate the thoughtfulness of crusty old bastards. Jerry -- that's the bartender's name -- went on about Reagan, but not in a way that led me to believe he was on the bandwagon to deify him. We talked about Nixon going to China and about how the only reason that happened was because of Kissinger -- who was too smart to ever want to be President.

We even talked about the current GOP and Mitt Romney a bit. I mentioned, as I usually do, that I think Romney has very Presidential hair... and that he makes more sitting on his ass than most of the people I know make in a year. (Some, in two years.)

"Yeah," Jerry said. "I'm probably gonna go with the black kid again. At least with him I know what to expect."

It doesn't take brains to be President of the United States. As a matter of fact, all it really takes is enough money, and having smart people around you. Falling within the statistical parameters of what robber baron marketeers call good looking helps, too. 

Jerry, who's originally from California, told about his childhood friend, Tom. Tom didn't have any money growing up. He'd come over, Jerry said, to go to the movies -- Jerry had a brand new Corvette in high school -- and his mom (Jerry's) would ask Tom how much money his mother gave him for the movie. He'd say he had a dollar -- which was what the movie cost. Jerry's mom would then say, "Well, I gave Jerry $10," and she'd reach into her purse and give the kid a sawbuck.

"We'd get out to the car," he said, shaking his and laughing, "and I say, ' You son of a bitch!' and he says 'What?' And I say 'You walked into the house with less money than I do and walk out with a dollar more!"

He laughed, but the laugh petered out into a sad silence. "She always liked him better."

Jerry went on to tell me his friend Tom is now one of the largest land developers in California and is worth 175 million dollars.

"And you know his secret?"

"No," I said. "What?"

"Don't play the stock market."

As much as I wanted to stay, keep downing shots of  Kentucky bourbon, and talk to Jerry, I wanted to make sure my ride out of Rapid City was lined up. I also needed to eat something... which I hadn't gotten around to yet. That meant another run through at Sanford's for a few dollar pints and some chili cheese fries... one of those all around good foods that nearly covers all the major greasy food groups. Then I walked over to the bus station and checked on my bus, got my boarding pass and still had time to kill.

I knew they were cops because they were trying to hard to look like they weren't. One of them was wearing a dark blazer that was an attempt to cover either a radio, a gun, or both.

The bus was 15 minutes late rolling in, but since part of 1-90 was an orange barrel obstacle course, that didn't surprise me. The cop in the jacket spoke to me. "Wait until everyone's off to get on the bus."

"I will," I said. "I've done this before."

"Well..." he said, "something's going to be happening."

The person they were waiting for was one of the last off the bus. He was maybe 4 and half feet tall, maybe Mexican. The cop in the black coat shook his and clamped the cuffs on. He seemed to be expecting the reception.

So did his baby mama, Sasquatch. She was a good half inch taller than me, with a football player's shoulders and huge hands. I double-checked for an adam's apple. There wasn't one. She looked exhausted, and the heavy make slathered on her Native American features was staring to fade and run. The baby looked tiny against her. She walked over to the cop car with the cops and watched them go through her bags.

They weren't finished yet when it was time to board the bus. As we pulled away, they were digging through every pocket and spreading everything on the hood of the car.

22 May, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cletus the Dog Man and His Crazy Wife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse): Minneapolis Proper Part 2

(For Liz Frazier, since she asked)

From the sundry cast of supporting characters that will tell you all you need to know about Minneapolis...

Nurse Dropsy is on the high end of middle age. Post-menopausal in the way that she probably doesn't need to shave her chin and upper lip every day yet, but soon will be -- or, if she isn't, working daily with aged has made her so.short cropped hair, more salt than pepper, and large, thick glasses lend to her friendly disposition. There is something matronly about her disposition, and something bizzare about the fact that in spite of the supposedly germ free necessity of her work, I can't help but imagine her as the kind of person who, when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, puts way too much jelly on it and ends up licking her fingers and staining her clothes.

The oddest thing about her, however, was not that she dropped a needle and pillow case... since the other nurse, on one occasion, dropped the entire IV basket, essentially contaminating empty blood vials, letting unused needles, swabs, etc, fly, only to let the mess sit for at least 45 minutes.... no, Nurse Dropsy was NOT the the clumsiest nurse I've seen.

She did, however, seem to have difficulty trying to find the right vein in Jamie's arm.

Now, I realize that phlebotomy is not, interestingly enough, an exact science. As easy as it sounds to take a needle and stick it in a vein, it's not. Veins roll. They close. some people (like your humble narrator) have veins in one arm that simply don't want to get stuck.

That little sucker doesn't want to get stuck, does it?
To be honest, I think my body reacts with a fight or flight response when it comes to needles. I'm convinced the blood tubes in my right arm bury themselves deeper whenever a potential needle is detected. Really. And I'm not all that scared of needles. I had to take allergy shots once a week between the ages of 5 and 17. I was a pin cushion.

But it's also true that giving a shot and inserting an IV are not exactly the same. Had Jamie been there to simply get a shot, I suspect that Nurse Dropsy would've stuck her hit the plunger and would have been done with it. 

Inserting the IV became more of a gopher hunt though... think Bill Murray in Caddyshack. Now, to be fair, she didn't so much stick Jamie over and over again as much as she inserted the needle and moved it around under the skin. And she did it with the same sort of chipper demeanor with which June Cleaver would vacuum under a rug. 

It did work out though. And while I have more damning medical stories to tell... that will have to be saved for another time. Maybe the book... if there ever is one. 

This blog post is dedicated to Poor Richard's Common House in Bloomington, MN... which is clearly a magnet for the LGBT community. God bless Lesbians in short denim shorts and cowboy boots, and the women who like that as much as I do. It's also dedicated to Dr. Eyebrows, who took good care of my friend Jamie while she was under the knife.

This post is also heartily dedicated to the unnamed, unknown, Creepy Culvert Masturbator of Richardson Nature Reserve. Now, chances are good,  that toupee cheap sunglasses wearing guy pulling his acid washed jeans up behind a tree near a culvert within view of a small beach where children and women in bikinis were was simply getting a blow job. With available restrooms so close, it's unlikely he was taking piss. But Creepy Culvert Masturbator sounds better than Creepy Culvert Blow Job Recipient. (And, depending on your preferences and who was catching, it could also sound like an award.)


I made it to Rapid City, SD where my next post or two will be from. From there, a bus to Billings, Montana. 

A HEARTY thanks to Dave and Jamie Jones, along with their cats Tyger, Double Stuff, and Squeakie, for putting up with me. Love you guys... in that Outlaw sort of way.

And remember, if you like what you read:

  2. CONSIDER A DONATION TO THE TRAVEL FUND. (Although I have my mode of travel for the next few months hammered out with my DISCOVERY PASS, I sometimes end up in places that have no 24 hour bus stations, shelters, Dorthy Day Houses, or Friendship Houses.... Rapid City USED to have one, but they shut it down. Too disturbing for the tourists... which means that I have to find cheap motel accommodation for a night or two. All donations are appreciated, as are offers of a couch for the night. I promise I'm a good house guest, I pick up after myself, and, unless I've been in a bus station for a few days, am reasonably clean. Pets usually like me, and I'm good with kids. )

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) -Minneapolis Proper, Part 1

It's all one long story, and we're all in it. And the best we can hope for is that it's well told. - Utah Phillips

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. - 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It had been more than a few years and seeming lifetimes since I'd spent any time around Dave and Jamie. Melissa and I went to visit them at their house in Owensboro maybe a year after their marriage. Dave stood as Best Man at mine and Melissa's wedding in Pigeon Forge, TN in 2002; I was happy to be able to attend his wedding in Gatlinburg, TN in 2004. Dave and I lived together my last semester of graduate school at Morehead State University... a formerly grand old institution that's limping it's way into 21st Century mediocrity that neither appreciates literary talent, nor, as far as I can tell, fosters it unless it can find a way to make a fast buck or unless it can find a way to take credit for the sweat of heretofore under-appreciated scribblers. Jamie was finishing her teaching degree. I actually met her first. We got along so well I thought it was a good idea to meet her boyfriend, this Eastern Kentucky mixture between T.S. Eliot and Robert Johnson.

I call him Hermano. He has yet to correct me.

They were happy to see me and kindly allowed me to make use of their shower and didn't scrub the passenger seat of their SUV while I was awake to notice.

One of the nice things about visiting old friends is that there's no pressure to entertain, which is nice. I don't want any of my friends to feel like they have to go out of their way. Allowing me a few days solace, a comfortable bed, and good and quiet company.

My timing, to begin with, was, as usual, SPOT ON.

Turns out that Jamie was scheduled to go into the hospital for a Hysteroscopy. In order to undergo THAT surgery, however, she had to go to a different hospital three different times for a drip infusion of iron.

You know. Iron. Mineral. Rust colored. Well, more like espresso. The IV bag looked like it was full of really strong espresso. Apparently, the infusion of iron is one of the newer treatments for anemia. Used to be, they'd just do a whole body blood transfusion... which also takes a couple of hours. 

Now, of course I tagged along.. because there's nothing so exciting as visiting a hospital, with that wonderful odoriferous cocktail of bleach, old urine, and death permeating everything and the promise of coffee flavored like burnt water mixed with brown food coloring.

One of the things about Minneapolis, apparently, is that there are so many medical specialties available here -- in a city that has clearly been subjected to arduous post east-coast city sprawl urban planning -- that they can spread them out to various hospitals.

The upside is, of course, that you can -- if you are able to afford it, of course -- have access to doctors and medical staff that specialize in your particular dreaded illness. 

The downside -- you might also run into Nurse Dropsy*

The primary RN at the blood infusion unit was incredibly kind, with a wonderful bedside manner. She was clearly used to dealing with older patients and with those undergoing chemotherapy. Now, I appreciate a good bedside manner... mostly because I HATE the medical profession, and every little bit helps in soothing my general discomfort with doctors, nurses, hospitals, doctor's offices, urgent cares, emergency rooms, and  those blood pressure machines in larger drug store chains and Wal-Mart.  

But when you're going with an old friend -- who is none too excited about the prospect of having to sit and watch a mineral drip through an IV into her arm -- the thing you don't want to here is


That's right. First it was a needle, which she (luckily) didn't use. Later she dropped a pillow case. (Again, she didn't use it; but the cackle that accompanied both accidents was as disconcerting as the weird stretch pants  and tucked in men's polo shirt she was wearing instead of scrubs.

But to be fair... she dealt primarily with geriatric patients who were more concerned about pissing themselves than they were about pissing themselves in general company.

17 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) - Travel Hungover, Part 3: Minneapolis

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine -- they are the life, the soul of reading... -Laurence Stern, Tristram Shandy

There are better places for a layover (than Des Moines, IA) -Anita Ross

About 4 miles from the Iowa Minnesota border.
The bus left Kansas City mostly empty and stayed that way for the entire trip. And it was a longish bus trip, too. Leaving out of KC at around 2:45 in the afternoon, I didn't disembark in Minneapolis, Minnesota until 10:30 that night.

There were plenty of stops, of course, including a half hour layover in Des Moines, Iowa. And while we lost people and gained people as the bus -- a Jefferson Bus Lines Rocket Rider -- made its way through the Midwestern afternoon, evening and night.

Most people who don't know any better tend to lump the Ohio Valley in with the Midwest. These are, of course, the some of the same people who insist on lumping Appalachia in with the South and who continue to believe that Barack Obama is Muslim. But it's important to take an opportunity, Dear Readers, to embrace educational moments and point out that southern Ohio -- the land that spawned me -- is about as Midwestern as Michelle Bachmann is a reasonable, intelligent human being.

Medically proven cure for erections lasting more than 4 hours.

I'm assuming here that everyone has played that childhood game Which Of These Is Not Like The Others... which is related to another game, sometimes called The Memory Game. This last game, however, is not often played, even in Sunday School classes, since it's clear that memory is something most people (tragically) lack in this country.

While there are some similar characteristics... a rampant sort of stoicism that, like memory, is fading into globby goopy puddles of pig sweat and desperation... this has more to do with an agricultural backbone than geography. I grew up in the aftermath of a fading agricultural heritage in The Rust Belt,where family farms were split up and sold, parceled into half acre lots for concentric houses sprouting like rotten lettuce on the landscape. 

America's Breadbasket -- long a misnomer since the replacement of agriculture with agribusiness,  with no bread being made. No; it's all corn syrup  and cattle feed and legally patented genetically modified corn seeds that are quickly undoing the slow evolutionary process that made corn such a hearty crop. No, it's not that stoic farmer that makes the Midwest unique... though that stoicism is something unique in all and of itself. 

What makes the Midwest so different from every other place is the land itself, and the story it tells. 

I was hoping to make it through the central part of the country: Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado. Time and situation have turned me northward, so that when I leave Minnesota, I will be heading west through South Dakota, then Montana.  People tell me Kansas is flat and Wyoming is unending. But that's part of what makes the Midwest so... well... Midwestern. The large, seemingly endless tracts of flat land punctuated by mountains, by hills, by rivers. The tall grass, the rocks, the riverbeds, all contain stories and songs. The feet that have walked on them add to that story. And so do the tires. And the roads. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, our roots, as a species, are in movement.

Our ancestors, traced all the way back to the wide African plains, were nomadic. In that movement we added to the story, already being written and already in progress. We add ourselves. We build up, we fall, we persist. We exist as a country because people wanted to strike out. 

And no... not that bullshit about religious freedom we were taught as children, that myth of Manifest Destiny that haunts our civilization and makes us doers of terrible things. That was an interpretation that was added later. (Keep in mind, Dear Readers and those suffering from The Painfully Short Memory, that the Puritans DID NOT come to this continent looking for "religious freedom." They were running to avoid political and religious persecution... of a kind that they, themselves, committed against anyone who wasn't like them. Think about Oliver Cromwell

After the layover in Des Moines... a bus depot that wouldn't sell me a bottle of water because I only had my PayPal Debit card (tied to the Travel Fund, gawd bless those of you who have donated, are thinking of donating, or will donate in the future.) and no cold hard cash. And NO, Dear Ones, there wasn't even an ATM machine that attached an exorbitant extortionist fee to each transaction. 

But we did switch drivers in Des Moines, and, still with a more or less empty manifest, we made our way west out of corn country. There's nothing quite like twilight in the Midwest -- (not a badly written series of Mormon allegories thinly disguised as vampire fantasy fiction.) That time right before sunset when all the colors of the sun seem to unravel and spread out across the open sky in preparation for sunset. All the flatness can make you feel... for lack of a better word... exposed. There are no rolling hills to hide behind, no mountains for the clouds to perch a top of.  Some people I know from Eastern Kentucky tell me the Midwest makes them uncomfortable because of that sense of exposure. I don't blame them for feeling that way. And I suppose I can understand how a less poetic eye can look at the wide open space and see nothing... 

people have said as much about traveling on the ocean. I never have, but I've been around large enough bodies of water to know better.

Sunset in rural Minnesota is beautiful. There really is nothing like it anywhere else... smoldering sun, spectrums of orange and red and pink and blue and purple smoldering into a deep dark night.

Nearing the Minneapolis, I shifted in my seat, anticipating being able to get off the bus. When I did, I caught a smell that I thought, at first, was maybe 3 week old dead skunk. Then I caught another whiff. Then I remembered I hadn't showered since before leaving Louisville.

No wonder people had been avoiding me. On the other hand, it's good security, and I thought of T.J., a bum I met years ago on the Riverwalk in New Orleans. He stunk to high heaven and assured me that he had the best security for his knapsack.

Whenever he set it down, he puked around it in a single circle. He showed it to me by way of proof. Apparently, other than making tourists feel bad for having money, his other life skill was puking on demand.
Yep, the universe is a funny thing. Sometimes you're given just what you need.

By the time I made it Minneapolis, it was dark, and my friends Dave and Jamie were at the bus station to greet me.  

Of course, before I would hug them too closely, I insisted on a shower. I noticed, they didn't argue.