Showing posts with label Louisville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Louisville. Show all posts

30 November, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories: The Story of R (Retread)

[I first published this story on my old American Re:visionary Blog. But, as I grow and expand my Rubber Tramp Stories, I thought it was appropriate to include them all under one tag on one blog.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."

"You didn't have a car?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.
Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

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

Actually there were several.

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

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

He reiterated several times that he might have loved her "a little," but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" And while he never said so, I'm sure the Santa sack of toys didn't help,

Even love has it's limits.


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12 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 4


Two people in as many days have died on the streets as Louisville settles into the first cold snap of the year. One of them died next to a local homeless shelter that, in theory, provides overnight protection from the elements for the city's homeless.

The first cold snap is hard because no one ever seems to see it coming -- in spite of past precedence. I see this as a fundamentally positive thing about human nature... it's our ability to hope for the best regardless of experience. But when it comes, no matter how much those of us engaged in homeless outreach try and plan for it, it still hits like a steel toe boot to the nuts.

We did a better than average job planning for it this year. I'm not the only one who obsessively watches weather patterns, so between the merry OCD/ grumpy old men in our group and the lovely folks that donate there money and donate supplies for us to pass out every week, we were able to get a few things together.., hand warmers, sternos, some coats and blankets and sleeping bags.

But there are moments in outreach when the wheels and cogs are laid bare and there is nothing to do except embrace the sadness and anger just so you can find more people before the hot meals get too cold and the supply of socks and handwarmers run out.

We've been serving a younger couple on our regular route for a few weeks. He's a more or less fresh out of a detox program. They say they want to get to Florida, closer to family. Last night was a White Flag night here in Louisville, which means the temperature is cold enough that shelters will open up and allow more than the usual number of people in to get out of the dangerous temperatures.

Unless you're on the Permanent Ban List.

And when we mentioned that it might be a good idea to get to a shelter, even it meant being separated (because none of the shelters here have facilities for couples or families, which means that couples are separated and fathers have to sleep in a different space than their wives and children). But he told me that since he was on the permanent ban list, he couldn't go in. Not even on a White Flag night.

As far as I know, this couple made it through the night. But the temperatures this week aren't going get better.

Later that night we met up with other outreach volunteers near a new encampment. Another couple.
They had a tent, at least, but no blankets, no sleeping bags, no kind of heat. And meanwhile, outside of the Wayside Mission on Jefferson Street, people were sleeping on the sidewalks, some without blankets, and a few with no shoes.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you fell short even when you do your best. And even if there wasn't such a thing as a Permanent Ban List that includes White Flag Nights, the fact is there isn't even enough beds for people willing and able to get into the shelters. The number of homeless folks on the street are up and it only breaks into the public conversation as something unsightly that people don't want to see through their NIMBY sunglasses.

There's nothing like the sick brick I get in my stomach when I see someone out on outreach knowing they may not survive the night. There's nothing like the dread of knowing that the odds are someone will find them in the morning, dead.

And someone finds them... anger and sadness doesn't quite cover it. Not by a longshot. And when they're found footsteps from a place that, in theory, should have been able to prevent it

Anger and sadness don't feel like nearly enough.



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24 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 3

Letters from Trumplandia
Part of outreach means we end up seeing some the same people over and over. Sometimes we don't see certain folks for a span of time because they went inside, or got sober, or started getting treatment for their mental or addiction issues.  And that's always a good thing. I'm always happy to see our folks, but there's a few that I would be happier to never see again, if only because they need to get off the street for their own safety or health.

But sometimes we don't see people and we feel the dread in the pits of our stomachs.

The area around Wayside Mission is a heavy population area, not just because of the homeless shelter, but because of the large homeless population that lives adjacent to the shelter. Some of them won't go in -- concerns over safety, petty street feuds that spill over or are exacerbated by the shelter's policy of giving some residents the job of policing the others, regardless of their capacity to be able to do so, and the shelter's policy of splitting families --  and some of them can't because of legitimate bans due to violence or drug use that endangers other people.

Amanda and I hadn't served down there in a while because of shifts in the population and changes in the routes over the last year that we hope does a more effective job of serving as many of the community as possible. Historically, people have been run off from the downtown underpasses and around the shelter at three watershed moments here in Louisville: before Derby, before the State Fair, and when cold weather sets in. The motivations for these are different, but not really. The city likes to "clean up" it's image for big money events like Derby and the Fair, and whitewashing the city's homeless community is one way, besides planting more rose bushes and cutting the grass along the highway, that the city does that.

LMPD annually engages in a more focused harassment of the city's homeless at the onset of cold weather, apparently for the benefit of the homeless. By all accounts, the thought is that by putting pressure on the community to move on, the city is helping push them to the shelters or other services.

Mick Parsons, blog, TrumplandiaThis sort of thinking is an example of the staggering disconnect between the bean counters in Metro Council Chambers and reality.

But as the official and unofficial sweeps continue, it never ceases to amaze me who is able to fall through the cracks. This past week, Amanda and I went with the route that currently serves the underpasses as extra support and to make it easier to pass out meals and supplies.

We were also tasked with finding a family that had been in the area the last few weeks -- a couple with two small children. Usually, we serve them in their vehicle, but they have insisted to outreach workers in the past that they go into Wayside at night. This isn't the first time we've heard this, or seen it in practice. The city has very limited resources for homeless families. So when they do go to shelters, families are split up.

This is one of those cavernous niches that the homeless fall into; because even when there aren't any children involved, and even if they can prove they're married, couples are separated -- effectively isolating them from the one person they count on for mutual aid and survival. And while this can sometimes help vulnerable people escape dangerous situations, the families are collateral damage.

We didn't find the family. Their vehicle was not even parked out front, in spite of the fact that it was spotted earlier that afternoon when the kids were riding their bikes on the street. If we had seen their vehicle, that would have meant they were at least in the shelter waiting room before the staff at Wayside split them up for the night. Because it wasn't there, there is no telling where they were on a night when the overnight temperatures were going to reach freezing.

Sometimes it's who you don't see that gets to you.

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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 1

Trumplandia, Mick Parsons, Dirty Sacred River
Bone thin and tiny even before she tried to fold herself into the air, her eyes were large, dark, and brimming.  She looked young; too young to be living under an underpass or in a camp that is slated for clearing by the city. It was Sunday night and she looked like she needed to be somewhere rushing through homework she'd put off all weekend instead of looking towards one more night in a homeless camp.  Her eyes told me she was almost as scared of being found as she was of whatever led her to where she was at. She hadn't found short term ways to coping -- the shit spice (lately mixed with Fentanyl)  available on the street for 50 cents a hit, or booze, or the needle. The outreach workers who found her said she wasn't alone. That some guy had been hanging around and disappeared when they approached.

I'd seen her some downtown, and she was rarely alone.  Some of the other outreach workers wanted to try and find out if she was, indeed, underage. And even if she wasn't underage, we were all concerned that she was a victim of trafficking... or that if she wasn't then, she would be soon enough. It wasn't just idle. The camp where she was staying has been the root of several reports of what looks like trafficking. But stories aren't proof and proof is hard to come by.

The city's recourse is to clear the camp, which it has started the ball rolling to do. The outreach
Louisville homeless compassionate city not
organization I volunteer with and other small organizations try to work with the Coalition for Homelessness and the city to find them resources, fast track them for housing (if possible) and at least keep in touch with them so that when they move, we can find them.

People who don't know that I do homeless outreach talk about the increase in Louisville's  homeless population. Part of that is due to some recent, temporary, policy changes on the part of the city. The annual clear outs for Derby and the State Fair did not happen this year thanks to a ton of negative press the city garnered for razing a camp with no warning last year. But that sort of thing doesn't last. Politically rooted compassion lasts as about as long as the news cycle -- which here can only bear so much content that verges somewhere near actual news before it implodes under the weight of college sports, and whatever new that falls under the flag shadow of Trumplandia. There are a fair number of people here that want to complain more about bike lanes that aren't really bike lanes and play partisan politics rather than actually fix things... and several of them keep getting elected to Metro Council.

There was no way to prove she wasn't underage, and CPS rarely, if ever, works on a Sunday night anyway. I suppose we could have called LMPD, but it's crap shoot with them. If we get a good cop, they will try and help. If we don't, they'll just slice and dice people's tents and ticket them for littering. We were able to at least get this young woman to agree to go find the resources we pointed her to.

Most of the time, that's the biggest win we get in those situations.


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24 September, 2018

At Home Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 1

Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Ohio River at Louisville and Jefferson, IN. 1928
Home has traditionally been a complex issue for me. I've written before about how home is a person, not a place, and that is still very much true. But it also follows that while I have settled down... which is to say, I'm stationary far more than is natural for me... the truth is that the concept of home is one that I continue to struggle with. In particular, other people's notions of home have given me nothing but vexation for decades.

Yes. Decades.

Let me explain.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I like it here. Of all the places I've lived, it probably best matches the landscape inside my head. It's both rural and urban, straightforward and urbane, full of possibility and weighed down with deep dark problems that infiltrate nearly every good thing that happens within its borders. Louisville is a small town with a few tall buildings; not because of its size, but because of the way it functions... and sometimes the way it doesn't function. I've lived in other places in Kentucky, from as far East as Menifee County to the rolling hilled-hypocrisy of Lexington. I've travelled the state over, too, from Covington to Corbin, from Morehead to Middlesboro, from Paducah to Pikeville.1 And except for a decade on and off, I've spent most of the last 30 years here. Kentucky is one of the few places where -- for the exception of  Lexington, which I can never quote forgive myself for -- I have always felt at home. Calling Kentucky home brings up all sorts of complications, the second most challenging being that it's the sort of home you're expected to leave and (maybe) eventually return to.

The most challenging part of being at home in Kentucky is that Kentucky is more or less particular about who it claims.

I run into this problem often in literary circles. It's increasingly common enough to NOT be from Louisville, or from Kentucky. But in literary circles... probably because Kentucky writers are once again an exportable commodity... because of or in spite of our Tin Pot Governor's dismissal of the arts... there's even more of the sometimes overt, sometimes covert protectionism of Kentucky culture and geographical identification.2

To be fair, I haven't been EXCLUDED because I'm not from Kentucky. That would be like saying no one reads my shit because I'm just one more cis-gendered white guy in America.3 I haven't been excluded, but living here creates a certain bias on the part of others about what kind of writer I orta be. Literary event organizers here tend to look for that commercially consistent version of "authentic" voices -- authentic but pedigreed, of course -- and while I can claim a lot of experience, many miles traveled, and a regional upbringing, the abstract lines that make Kentucky separate from the other cleaved pieces of geography that make up the Ohio River Valley delineate the cultural boundary, too.

Or, simply put: I'm from Ohio.

True, it's Southern Ohio... Southwest Ohio, to be exact, which is about as culturally divergent from the rest of the state as Paducah is from Pikeville. Ohio, like Kentucky, could be split into (at least) four different states if you look at geography, culture, and other demographic points. Actually, you could cut the Southeast corner of the state and slide it nicely into a larger state called Appalachia... a state that would include not only part of Ohio, but a fair chunk of Kentucky and Pennsylvania too, along with West Virginia.

For me, though, the map as drawn has less to do with the culture of where I live than geography, which transcends... and sometimes confounds... cartography. The dirty scared river's long and storied history as a major commercial artery that eventually opened up the West to the trials, terrors, and seeming inevitability of Manifest Destiny have made permanent imprint on the geography of the nation. And while it's true that the Ohio River isn't as prominent a commercial artery as it used to be, the fact is that without it there would have been no place for wagons, trains, roads, or interstates to be laid. The river, diverted as it is, still runs and still has a say over everything from where people live, how they get back and forth to work, and sometimes, how the weather impacts the area.4 So, I will never be a Kentucky writer. But every breath, drop of blood, and bone in my body is from the river valley.

And there's something to that, too.

________________________________________________

1. I even went to Fancy Farm once. There is no better explanation of the political landscape of this Commonwealth than Fancy Farm.
2. This actually has much deeper roots than Herr Bevin. He's just one more in a long series of yahoos and crankyanks who think they know what's best for Kentucky without ever actually spending any time in the state's underbelly.
3.I recently had coffee with another writer here who made that kind of observation, but I don't agree. There's room for everyone and all the voices need to be heard. I'll keep scribbling in my basement, unabated.
4, Watch a tornado laden storms hit the valley and split in half just to pass over Louisville. It happens. A lot.



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15 January, 2018

Every day is a title fight, Part 3: A Winter's Tale

 The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches. - e.e. cummings

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.  
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love. - Kenneth Patchen
Since we hit black ice a few weeks back and totaled (effectively) my car, I'm finding myself more reticent than usual to go out into the weather. It's nothing near the random anxiety attack I experienced before crawling up into the eaves spaces of our house to fix a hole in the roof. No lights spots, heart palpitations and sweating, or vertigo. Nothing like that. Something like that might be acceptable ... at least more acceptable, anyway. An anxiety attack feels more like a condition -- and therefore not my fault --  than just having to admit that I'm scared.
It's not like I haven't slid on black ice before. I once spun a car 360 degrees on black ice in in the middle of a major intersection (if there is one that can be called that) in Mount Carroll, Illinois. My only saving grace then was that  
  1. it was a small car
  2. it was late and so there was no traffic, and
  3. I didn't hit anything.
I was in the car with my second ex-wife. We were driving home from having dinner out (I think) and when we hit the ice, I did what I always do in that situation: I took my foot off the gas, avoided the break pedal and tried to steer out of it.

Luckily, we did. But we did rethink going out in weather after that... if for no other reason than that Chevy Aveo was not built for northern winters.

I remember that one being more fun than frightening, though. It's not that there wasn't an element of danger. We were close to houses and electric lines and things that make little plastic cars crumble when hit head on.  I suppose I could blame bravado on my part, or the fact that my second ex-wife never really knew how to handle any displays of fear or sadness -- probably because I used to police those kinds of reactions religiously and when I didn't, she was taken so aback that she thought I was a pod person. It could also be that the only thing the men in her family cry about is when the University of Kentucky loses, and I've never been much on college basketball.

This wreck, in some ways, not much different. We were in what is normally a high-traffic area (I-71 southbound near the Kentucky River) , when we hit a spot of black ice and the rear end of the car spun out in front of me. Luckily, there were no other cars around, but there was a guardrail that stopped us before I could manage to spin out of it entirely and straighten the car.

Amanda and Stella were both in the car with me, and other than a few bruises, we all walked away from it without injury. And for that, I am eternally grateful,

But I find myself more than a little hesitant to go out when there's even a little snow or ice. Not having a vehicle with 4WD is part of the reason. Mostly, I worry about other people's driving to the point that my stomach turns into a rock and I have to avert my eyes from road just to stay mostly calm.

I've had nightmares since in which the incident did not have such a positive outcome. And I find it difficult to block them from my mind when the topic of going out into the weather, even for the best of reasons, comes up.

The part of me that wishes I were wired a little differently tells me I should just be grateful and embrace the fact that we are all still alive. And I am grateful. I'm even more grateful that Amanda and Stella weren't hurt.

Perhaps the oddest thing about sorting through my emotional reaction to the incident is the fact that the only thing I'm afraid of is losing them. Politicians and powermongers don't impress or scare me, in spite of their reach and in spite of how difficult my indifference to their perceived authority sometimes makes my life and the lives of people I love.  What scares me the most is losing them. That's not the same as being alone. Being alone doesn't bother me. Being without my family -- or even the thought of it -- scares me more than I can articulate. I'm scared of losing them, and scared of the rage that loss would unleash. A rage that, like love, is all consuming and would burn the heart and soul right out of me.

Which is why, when pedantic, small-minded people like Vicki Aubrey Welch try -- badly -- to wield political power like a Tammany Hall gangster, my initial reaction is incredulity.

That's also why it doesn't surprise me that the local Democratic Caucus, now bound to support the incumbent that was not groomed for the position like a puppy farm poodle, is working on every back door plan it can to make sure they don't have to support him.
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15 December, 2017

Every day is a title fight, Part 1: the applicants

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.~ Pericles

Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit. ~P. J. O'Rourke
Mick Parsons, every day is a title fight part 1
The day of the interview, we sat in the 3rd floor conference room at city hall along with the other distinguished candidates.   Everyone -- well, mostly everyone -- was friendly and polite. Chase Gardner had his game face on, and John Witt ... a notorious Beechmont crank -- sat in the corner as if he was worried about something rubbing off on him. But the presumed front runner, Nicole George, brought a box of chocolates, which showed not only a certain amount of class but also that potential political appointees and recovering addicts have something in common; namely, both groups rely on chocolate as a way to curtail the cravings. And apparently chocolate works both for booze and for blood cravings. 
I mean, who could have guessed? It does give a kind heart hope.
The pleasantries dissipated quickly after initial greetings and meetings the hopefuls broke off into their subsets: the political movers, the local activists, one crank, one cop's wife, and the rash outsiders. George and former horseman Bret Schultz, the lone Republican, commiserated over the ineffective advocacy of $500 per plate political fundraisers. The activists banded together to talk about everything but politics and the unspoken competition for a metro council appointment that might, if levied correctly, help any number of causes. Witt sat in the corner and spoke very little, except on points of procedure. At one point the topic of South End economic development came up and Witt said only that he was opposed to more traffic and liked being able to get to the grocery store without dealing much with it.
The rash outsiders -- Amanda , me, and Nikki Boyd  sat over at the end of the table, having very little to say about $500 plate dinners or the various and noble projects and organizations we should be involved with that the three don't know about because we're ensconced in our own projects and organizations.
Mick Parsons, every day is a title fight, part 1I knew I didn't have a shot. Not really. The odds were so far out there that only a gambling addict would put a borrowed quarter on me. Amanda didn't think much of her chances either, though I thought that between the two of us, she would have the better chance for a whole host of reasons. Nikki Boyd just seemed genuinely happy to be there and was, from what I could tell, a very nice person who also questioned her chances simply because of the number of politicos in the room.

Then the interviews started. We were sequestered until our turns so no one would know the questions asked by the metro council members who came out to see potential appointees kick at the clouds as they hanged.
I was nervous when it was my turn. I don't get nervous speaking in front of politicians. I've spoken before Metro Council twice before as a concerned citizen, most recently in response to the city's treatment of the homeless population. But I wanted to put a more conciliatory foot forward. After all, I wasn't there to try and admonish or cajole them. In spite of the long odds, I felt like there was a real opportunity to be in a position to help not only the neighborhood I live in, but the homeless population I serve.

Of course, this would be no Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But what really is, after all? Life isn't a Frank Capra movie.


When it was my turn, I introduced myself and answered a couple of thoughtful and useful questions. I was nervous, but I was doing ok.

And then spake the Wicked Witch of District 13, Vicki Aubry Welch, who had already come out for the presumed, chocolate-toting front runner.




Now, did she attack my lack of political experience, my past and current activism, or some perceived questionable moral fiber?

No.

Instead, she decided to focus on the fact that both my wife and I were applying for the same political appointment.


I'm still not quite sure why she would find it difficult to understand that each person in a married couple might be interested in applying for the same political appointment. I can only assume that such thing would never happen in her marriage -- which would make me feel sorry for her if it wasn't clear from the rest of the video that she found some way to go after almost every other applicant ... except her pick.


 
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07 November, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 3

All things are made bitter, words even / are made to taste like paper, wars gets tossed up / like soldiers used to be/ (in a child's attic) lined up / to be knocked down, as I am... ~ Charles Olson
The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist's imaginative life there is purpose. ~ Sherwood Anderson 
Daylight Savings Time, Marriage, Art
Give it about 30 years and no one will even talk about Daylight Savings Time anymore.

Seriously. As annoying as it is, as pointless as it is, and as completely illogical as it is, it will cease to be the topic any real discussion.  
This won't happen because the powers-that-be will suddenly come to their senses and realize that moving the hour hand backwards or forwards doesn't actually extend or shorten the day. As a matter of fact, if anyone talks about hour hands, it will be in the sense of a quaint curiosity. Like jewelry made out of the hair of a dead loved one or the concept of privacy. All things fall into the dust of quaint curiosity shops of the mind -- including curiosity shops -- so seriously, don't put too much stock in the illusion that you're getting an extra hour sleep when we  FALL BACK IN THE FALL.

Don't worry about it. The Internet of Things will do it for us. We won't have to think about Daylight Savings Time because the ability to think about anything -- like the ability to read a clock or have a private thought that can't be described by a meme -- will have disappeared and we will have the IOT (Internet of Things, or, as we'll maybe call it NetStuf) heft the apparent burden of consciousness for us.

But if this Internet of Things... I mean, NetStuf... is so damn dandy, why can't it fix the hole in my ceiling? It can, apparently, predict what kind of advertising I'll respond to based on (really, very) random keyword searches. It can tell me who I was in a past life. It can tell me how I'm probably going to die and -- based just on my Facebook profile picture -- tell me where my ancestors came from. This Internet of Things assures that I'm instantly and permanently connected to countless facts, factoids, fake news, friend updates, new business connections, and scores for everything from the little league game (in languid immobile Summer, anyway) to World Cup Soccer.

But it can't crawl up into the very small and sort of claustrophobic space under the ceiling awning off the attic and repair a hole. It can't climb up on the roof and make any necessary repairs. It's 2017 and there are robots that can vacuum your house while you're gone... not that we can afford one or could even make use of one with three dogs and two cats to either hunt it, stalk it, or asphyxiate it with the endless trails of shed fur.

Ok, I know. I signed up for this life on the margin, right? Making Art out your life isn't easy, nor, I suppose, should it be. Though I'm still unsure of why. And I feel like I've been asking that question a really, really long time.




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11 September, 2017

Sacred Moments in Profane Times: dads, daughters, remembrance as practice / practice as activism

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.~ Thomas Merton

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My daughter came home one evening after work last week and told me she watched a man get stabbed at the bus stop.

She said a man walked up to another man standing next to her at the bus stop, stabbed him, and ran away. Stabbed him like he was just looking for a place to put his knife away. The police were called. The ambulance came. She told me she thought the man died because when the ambulance left, the lights weren't on and it wasn't in a hurry.

The week started with celebrating her birthday. She turned 23 this year. Most days I'm amazed that I have a child who's old enough to drink. I'm also daily amazed by the way she's choosing to walk through the world.

We celebrated her birthday with a short hike near this waterfall where Amanda and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrated her birthday over the entire long weekend -- her birthday fell on Labor Day this year -- with a vegan chocolate raspberry tart and a meal at a Morels Cafe, a local vegan restaurant known for its "Farby" Sandwich... which is a surprisingly accurate vegan version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich.

Amanda and I aren't vegan, but my daughter is. We end up eating a largely vegetarian diet, but we would do that anyway.

I always enjoy my daughter's birthdays. Because I wasn't the custodial parent when she was growing up, I take special joy in spending them with her now.  I was glad we spent it as a family. When we were at the waterfall, I mostly watched her from a bit of a distance, watched her taking everything in and soaking in her happiness and satisfaction. I enjoy watching her explore and grow into the beautiful person she is -- striving to find the path of her best possible self.

Even if it means eating a (surprisingly convincing and delicious ) vegan roast beef sandwich.

I enjoy the moments with my daughter -- or sometimes, just around her -- as she reaches out, tries to grow in spite of all in the world that would drag her backwards. When she came home from watching a man get stabbed, it was all I could do not to hug her forever. The world is a dangerous place. It's good that she knows this. I just wish she didn't have to.

Remembrance is such a heavy word. When I think of it, the word is burdened with religious connotation... which isn't surprising for a rural small town boy.  Lately, though, I've come to think of remembrance as something more akin to what Buddhists and monks and other Religious have described as practice. This means not limiting my acts of remembrance... my practice... to one day or to specific times. Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the contemplative life as one in which a person works to make each moment a prayer, each moment a moment in the presence of God. In Sign of Jonas he refers to a monk's life as full of hard work, but also one of peace. A peace that is earned by daily work and by daily devotion.

I'm no monk, and thank Christ for that. I'd be a lousy one. But as I work to keep my writing central -- and what is writing but one form a contemplative life takes in the physical world -- I remind myself that I need to strive in each part of my day, in every aspect of my life, to make each action a kind of prayer. The world isn't designed for this kind of thing, of course. I'm supposed to be about the business of making money and doing my part in the great capitalist machine that's been built up around us. A machine that's choking out the very sound and light of God in the name of power and money.

When I think about how to mediate the world... in the current state of the world... I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's statement in Living Buddha, Living Christ that it's not simply a matter of choosing whether to be engaged with the world or to have a contemplative life, but deciding how to engage and still have a contemplative life. I've met a lot of people who are engaged.
The tree remembers the shape of the ground.

I tend to struggle, though, when their insistence on engagement -- usually limited by adherence to concepts rather than a clearer reality -- cuts into my contemplative life.  I'm always struggling with where I ought to be -- especially in these days when the New Wave Fascists are in the news, running over protestors, claiming to defend history without realizing -- or caring -- that they are on the wrong side of it.

And while I feel like I've been clear on this point, I'll keep on it for another short paragraph:

If you aren't Antifa, you aren't paying attention. Being Antifa doesn't mean you need to join a group. You don't need to dress in black. You don't need to be a socialist. Or a communist. Or an anarchist. You just need to understand that fascism is bad and is a threat to America and to the Democratic experiment. There's historic precedence for it.

And once you understand that, make it part of your daily practice. Like prayer. Like meditation. Like breathing. Like an old sycamore tree that remembers the shape of the ground washed away by the ebb and flow of water, hold to what matters.

Do this in remembrance of your children. Do this in remembrance of the sacrifices your grandparents made. Do this in remembrance of the remembered and forgotten dead. Do this in remembrance of a world where knives are not sheathed in people at bus stops. Do this in remembrance of the living who should not have to bleed so the war machine can keep spinning. Do this in remembrance of the radical idea that all people are equal.

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11 August, 2017

Save me from philanthropy: cultural preservationists versus the martyrs

'...if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing' ~ Michel Foucault


When I was growing up, I was told all I needed to succeed was a pair of bootstraps and the sheer determination to pull my feet up over and behind my shoulders.

You know. Like a double-jointed hooker.

And although no one said it, the fact has always been understood that success in America means being able to face the system that's screwing you rather than taking it face down in a stinky foam pillow.

We put so much store on success -- and by success I mean not having the misfortune of being considered a blight or inconvenience to someone else.

Working in homeless outreach, I've heard it all. A lot of people -- so many that it sometimes causes me to despair when I ponder the future of the human race -- view the homeless as a blight, like aggressive red ants or the ever-increasing clouds of Africanized bees. People on my neighborhood association page regularly put the homeless in the same category as car thieves and drug dealers. Stigmatized as violent criminals, they're treated like a scourge that needs to be gotten rid of.

It doesn't do any good to explain to these preservers of a homogeneous and non-existing (not to mention never-existing) culture who say these things that homelessness is not moral judgement; people have been treating homelessness, poverty, as well as mental and physical disabilities, as a moral judgement for centuries.  The rampant spread of literacy and access to the most recent research in economics, mental illness, addiction, and disease doesn't seem to have any impact on these self-appointed pillars of culture and society.

Then there are the martyrs. They see the homeless and equate them with the sad-eyed animals they see in PETA commercials. It's not that they're any less repulsed. They see a problem that needs to be fixed. They see something broken that needs to be healed. The actual story, the actual reasons, the actual complex details behind someone's homelessness, don't really matter. The complex ball of issues -- economic, psychological, physiological -- don't matter. They read articles about how other cities here and abroad take the homeless and put them in the empty houses. They see this as a solution. Or they want to build more homeless shelters -- having never seen the inside of one themselves.They see themselves as the saving crusaders of the homeless. All they need is a job. All they need is a place to live. All they need is to see their doctor, or their shrink.

The world is full of well-intended and soft-hearted little fascists that would save the homeless-- whether they want to be saved or not-- just to save themselves from the awful inconvenience of having to be reminded, daily, of their existence.

Outreach only works when you embrace the belief that you can't save anyone. If, in the process of serving them, they decide to take it upon themselves to pick themselves up, you are there to lend a hand and help. They are not broken toys that need a little glue and dusty shelf to sit on.

Compassion is a PR word here in Louisville... at least among the elected leaders. The drive is economic and the homeless are treated with derision and apathy as people seek to "solve" the problem of homelessness without increasing funding or improving access to the institutions that over-burdened and underfunded while other organizations (one in particular) get the lion's share of public money to lock the homeless out of the one place most "regular" citizens say they belong -- in a shelter -- while managing to exploit them for profit in the name of "saving them."

At least there are good people here who counter-balance all this cynicism. I meet them all the time, work with them on outreach, hear about them from the folks on the street when I serve. I know they're out there and it gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to do right by our brothers and sisters without the burden of ego and the paternal tendency to believe they can't speak for themselves.

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26 April, 2017

Love is the best disease

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me. -- Winston Churchill


When I rolled into River City on a Greyhound bus 5 years ago this week, I had no idea what I was in for.

My plan was to stop through on my way west. I'd been living on the road since January and had been bouncing around the East Coast, Appalachia, and the Ohio Valley for months. I stayed with family, visited friends, and slept on buses, trains, and in stations between Chicago and Newport News.

The way I understand it, she had to pay someone $20 to pick me up because no one wanted to drive downtown to the bus station. Traveling by the big grey dog is frowned upon by a certain segment of the population, and perhaps (though unlikely) by some of you, Dear Friends and Readers. So it was that after beating the bushes and offering cold hard cash, Amanda managed to find someone to pick me up and deposit me at the house that would, eventually, become my home.

And I say again: that wasn't my plan. My plan was to roll west, cross the wild Mississippi River, explore the big square states and head to the Left Coast, where all freaks and all geeks of every stripe are welcome.  I didn't intend on settling down so much as wandering around and back again. I had some unfinished business up in Illinois -- an anti-climactic and passionless divorce -- and was planning on looping back east to visit family and friends.

When I came to Louisville five years ago this month, I didn't expect to meet the love of my life. I expected to reconnect with an old friend from college that wouldn't mind a visit now and again as I passed through The Bluegrass.

But that's exactly what happened. I didn't expect my entire life to change, but it did. That's the way love works, though. It's not calm. It's not reasonable. It doesn't take your plans into account. And it doesn't always mix in with the life you're setting up for yourself.

If you're lucky, love makes you a little crazy. Cynics say that falling in love is like a drug and just as temporary. Being in love takes work. And that work requires that come back to that person, over and over again. If the definition of insanity is the desire to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, love means looking at the love of your life everyday and embracing inevitable change.

In a way, real love is a disease. It invades you and changes the way you breathe, the way your blood flows. Love demands that you make changes, even when the changes might be uncomfortable at first.

I'm not always particularly good at living the domestic life. I've written about that before. But I love that today, I get to celebrate my marriage to a woman that knew that when she decided to take a chance on a guy like me.

And that's the thing about love. It's not a warm fuzzy kind of thing.

But if you're lucky, it sure does feel that way most of the time.



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14 June, 2016

America in retrograde: of Ali and the Orlando Massacre

Our currency is flesh and bone. - Pink Floyd, Dogs of War

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even. -- Muhammad Ali

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.”-- Edward Gibbon, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire


Burial of the Dead after Wounded Knee, 1890, in South Dakota
One of the wonders of this, our technological age, is that a person doesn't even have to be six feet under before the armchair historians will offer their pronouncements.* Sitting at the neighborhood watering hole I frequent and talking to another one of the regulars, I could barely contain my frustration. Muhammad Ali was dead, his funeral -- which the city of Louisville treated like his last great title fight -- was planned, and local gas stations took the opportunity to raise the price just in time for the influx of people coming into River City to show The Champ their respects. The political and cultural opportunists on all sides had already dug into their positions to lay claim to the dead boxer's voice, legacy, and life.  

Personally, I can think of no worse a fate for a man who spent his life making sure his voice was
clearly understood in spite of his industry's and the media's attempts to handle him.  But that wasn't my frustration, really. While I recognize Ali as a talented boxer and a cultural icon, I don't have the same sort of personal connection that many who are Louisville natives have.

My frustration? Racism masking itself as Patriotic indignation. For every person calling Ali a hero, for every person who signed that impromptu, well-intended, and, I can only assume, ill-thought out petition to replace the University of Louisville's memorial to the Confederate Dead** and erect a Muhammad Ali statue (that I can only assume would resemble slightly the statue of Rocky Balboa*** that still stands in Philadelphia) in it's place, there are, of course, all the angry old (white) guys who insist on calling him a draft dodger and a bigot.

I tried to point out that when Ali refused to present himself for the draft during the Vietnam War, that was he eventually stripped of his title and served four years in prison. His reasons for refusing were moral and ethical ones, and were based on figures that were accurate. There were a large number of blacks serving as canon fodder in the war effort, just as there were a predominately large number of poor people -- black, white, brown, what-have-you -- who were cannon fodder in a misdirected war against global communism.  The regular I was talking to -- someone I usually talk about all the normal things people talk about in bars^ -- pointed out that Ali's tour probably would have not been in the jungle.

"They'd have taken his picture. He'd box a few matches, get his picture taken, and probably would have been stationed in Germany."

"So he would have been a PR tool,"

"Exactly!" 

 "Which probably would have been used to recruit more young black men to serve in far, more dangerous details in a war he was morally and ethically opposed to."

The conversation eventually moved on to how the Roman empire was toppled by sex (his view) and how Democracy, "like Communism, is a good idea on paper." But I'll come back to this conversation at a later date for another blog post.

I will comment on those who called him a bigot, thought. Ali joined the Nation of Islam -- a Black Nationalist religious organization, not to be confused with actual Islam. I don't know if that made him a bigot. The Nation did not, like the KKK (to which some people try and compare it) string people up for sport and take pictures of their burned, eviscerated, raped, and sodomized corpses the way hunters pose with their kills. The Nation probably DID have Malcolm X killed. But he actually did something -- he spoke what he saw as an evolving truth... much in same way Ali did through the course of his life. I don't know if he was a bigot. I don't believe, like some of the more granola loving pundits do, that he "transcended race." To suggest that entirely co-opts his struggles, his mistakes, and his triumphs into a weak and untenable ideological standard -- and in doing so, erases it. Bigotry is as much a response to a situation as it is a learned habit. I really hate idiots. So there. I guess I might be a bigot, too.

In the realm of death manipulated for by political and cultural pundits, the 50 deaths at Pulse in Orlando over the weekend has once again gotten the NRA crowd and those who want to see fewer guns on the street marshaling their forces and organizing full on meme wars for the hearts, minds, and digital device memories of the American people.

The NRA has gotten pretty good at shifting the conversation away from the fact that guns that shoot more bullets faster do, in fact, tend to result in higher casualties. This is the truth of war, and any kid who grew up playing Risk^^ knows that.  There is a faction of the Democratic Party, and liberals^^^ in general, that have gotten pretty good at shifting the conversation away from the fact that the 2nd Amendment can be interpreted a couple different ways depending whether you're a strict constructionist or not, while avoiding the central problem of having the government monitor or limit access to what are arguably unnecessary weapons^^^ -- that such a system would leave all the really dangerous guns in the hands of the people who have racked up more dead bodies than a Death Race 2000 reboot*:

the United States Government.

People are understandably outraged. We should always be outraged when violence rips apart people's lives.  What we need to be careful of, however, is falling back on simple solutions for what are complex issues. Everyone having a gun all the time is not a solution. No one having any is not one either.

Violence is a part of human nature. The earliest examples of law was meant to restrict and penalize this impulse. Law -- new laws, old laws -- will only do so much, and I am unconvinced that a change in law will bring forth the necessary change in our cultural consciousness.  Denying that we have the capacity for violence by claiming we have evolved because we have cell phones and electric cars and don't have to eat meat if we don't want to is delusional. Denying that we will never cease being violent creatures driven by our most basic needs and therefore need a tighter yoke to keep us in line is where totalitarianism finds root and grows, using whatever ism happens to be in vogue at the time.

How we respond to this violence will determine how future violence plays out -- because we are far from that utopian dream of a peaceful world. Besides the fact that humans are violent by nature -- or we still wouldn't be here -- the other fact at play is that as long as violence pays out in money and in power, we will never come to terms with our violent nature.

As it's an election year, of course all politicians of note are laying claim to the narrative being spun around the death of 50 people who only wanted to have a good time in a place they felt safe enough to be themselves. Ever the astute showman and salesman, Generalissimo Trump had to step his fat foot in it early:



Of course, the other megalomaniac got hers in, too, now that she conveniently supports marriage equity.


As I write, they are still identifying the dead. Their families are being notified. The carnage is far from cleaned up, although the larger narrative, with all of it's plot twists and Choose-Your-Own* Moral of the story is being polished to a shit shine that might even inspire Gov. Matt Bevin like plain old chihuahua shit apparently does.

And even as public officials and families work to identify the victims of this massacre, their deaths are being used by both sides to scare their armies into one battle or another.  Flags are at half mast again. We are mourning our fallen brothers and sisters in live CNN time... until the next tragedy.

At some point we will realize our entire lives are being filled with death, with violence, with fear. At some point we will decide to move beyond all of this and advance. At some point we will let our dead be dead.

Or, the tyrants will take over. And then it won't matter because we'll be too tired, too exhausted, too demoralized to notice that there aren't any flags anymore, and that the number of dead is too high to be accurately counted.
_______________________________________________________________
*Armchair Historians: those who, based solely on their life experience, act as if they understand all of human history. I suppose Google (or Bing) helps, too.
** See here, on UofL's own page about it. As a student of history, I think it's important to remember all of it. All I seem to hear from the apologists for leaving this statue where is, however, are cries and denouncements that liberals are trying to erase history -- usually spoken within the same two or three breaths that compare indentured servitude to chattel slavery, followed by the statement that African tribes often raided and sold neighboring and enemy tribes to sell them into slavery -- while conveniently letting the white slaver traders and the American economic system that depended on slave labor off the hook. After all, they were just trying to earn a living... and it wasn't ILLEGAL... right? Were American History taught as it actually happened, these apologists would not be so fired up about not revising it. The truth is they want the sanitized version we were taught to be the story -- not the blood, the bones, and the crimes against humanity, upon which all civilizations are built.
*** Proof that movie studios need to pay more for garbage pick up, and Philadelphia needs a better relationship with the Teamsters.
^ Sports, Politics, and the Downfall of Western Civilization. Not always in that order. 
^^For those who were born after the technological age: Risk was a kick ass board game in which you learned world domination.
^^^ Clintonian "New Democrats", or Republican Lite. Neoliberal (Friedman economics) sensibilities spiced up with JFK, MLK, and Gandhi quotes. Think of it as grand larceny, but they say please and thank you. And SMILE, BITCH, SMILE.
*With any luck, this won't happen. But then again... Amazon Prime needs a new show.
** There used to be a series of what would now be called YA books called "Choose Your Own Adventure." You read up to a plot point, and then were given a series of options with corresponding page numbers to turn to.  Sort of like Mad Libs*** for fiction.
*** Ah, forget about it. Google it if you want to know. 




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11 May, 2016

Etiquette and indignity: riding the Grey Dog


[From pocket journal, 9 May 2016]

At the. Louisville Greyhound Station, waiting for the bus to Cincinnati. I know this isn't a proper jaunt, but I feel a certain mental and spiritual release just sitting here on the floor with my rucksack and the blue guitar*. [They've taken out even more seats since the last time I was here.]

The post-Derby exit crowd is still here -- the proles that no one looks for in the expensive boxes or theexclusive parties where the rich, the famous, and the rich and famous wear ugly hats, ugly ties, and take pride in urinating on the city in a most non-metaphoric fashion while making fun of the accents, the politics, AND while the city's most glamorous whores -- the mayor, the city council, and the Chamber of Commerce** -- open wide and swallow whatever the out-of-town rubes have to offer. In addition to the obvious hangovers and economic losses being nursed***, space on the buses at a premium. This means, among other things, that that Greyhound drags out the broken down cans to accommodate the crowd.

My bus is number 6222. I always look at the number. It's a habit born out of complaining. Yes, I realize it often does no good to complain when, after riding in a mostly air conditioned sardine can for 25.5 hours from Louisville Kentucky to Norfolk, that your bus driver is lost in rural Virginia. It does no good, but I do feel a little better afterwards -- especially  after listening for 2 hours as other passengers, none of whom have ever been in the state of Virginia, try and give the bus driver directions to get back on the interstate.

I know what you're thinking, Dear Friends and Readers -- GPS makes this sort of foolishness impossible.

Oh, if only that t'were true. If only.

Traveling by the Grey Dog is one of those things I often swear I'll never do again. By its very nature, it is undignified and uncomfortable. Many people lack the basic etiquette to minimize the absence of dignity and comfort. I have even written about how I will never travel by the rolling sardine can again.

But I end up doing it anyway. And this is why they always win.

This particular bus is one I'm sure I've ridden before. It used to be a nice one, too. One of the late 90's models -- seats still wide enough for a non-stick figure person (though certainly not big enough for a man of large appetites to stretch out). Plenty of room in the above head storage bins. Unlike the new buses they advertise, there is no free wifi, and there are a few electric outlets every 3 or 4 rows. It's true that the newer buses have shiny, all faux leather seats, free wifi, and plenty of electric outlets. But the seats are more narrow, there's less leg room, and the above head storage compartments are smaller and shorter.

The seat I'm sitting in is stuck in a reclined position that I have always found uncomfortable on buses. It's more slouchy than relaxed and I've slept better on the bus sitting straight up. I know this seat will not be fixed. Mine is not the only broken seat, as the seat ahead of me is also stuck in a reclined position. The young woman sitting in it, trying to master English as a Second Language with an adult ESL reader, is apparently unconcerned that her head is almost in my lap and that a jolt or a speed bump could make us far friendlier with one another than either of us wants.

These seats will not be fixed or replaced. At some point, after the engine has been taped together from all the miles and abuse, it will finish out its service somewhere in the Great Empty -- a large, square state like Iowa, Wyoming, or Montana. They send all the broken up cans out there to rust, rattle, fall apart and die like an underfed racing hound.

Yes, the buses are made to be driven into the dirt. But the inevitable entropy is driven -- pun intended -- by riders who think a bus seat is a recliner, who don't know how to use earphones, and by those who don't seem to grasp that no amount of lounging, seat hogging, and a total lack of spacial awareness makes rolling along at 55 mph in a rolling sardine can more dignified.

And moreover, the basic business model -- as far as I can tell from my vast experience riding the Grey Dog and its various geographically locked clones -- is built on a mutual acceptance of an undignified humanity. They tend to put the nicer, newer (and smaller) buses in larger markets in the northeastern seaboard and southern California. Then, once the buses get a little too used in service, they're moved to more populated markets in the midwest, south, and west until they make the death roll even further west, into the mountain time zone far, far away from the shiny, made for TV background coasts.

I wish there was a train between Cincinnati and Louisville. There used to be. But CSX won't pay to update and repair the tracks for commuter trains. So on the bus I go.

There is, I suppose, always this:

_____________________________________________________________________________________________
*The blue guitar is a Washburn Rover, a travel guitar. Sounds a little tinny, but holds a tune and can fit in the above seat storage. Someday I'm going to put in an electric pick up so I can plug it into an amp.
** The Chamber of Commerce has rebranded itself as Greater Louisville, Inc. You know. Because that changes the nature of what they are, which are parasitic savages.
***No one who wins big at the Derby takes the bus home. It's a universal truth.
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