Showing posts with label Oregon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oregon. Show all posts

03 April, 2019

Field Notes, from March 29 2019: Oh, The Humanities


Air palpable with earnest outcries
read to the appropriate audience
words spent on prayers to gods
too busy to grant wishes

(From my last day at AWP:)

The folks I saw yesterday (Friday) were not out today. I want to believe that the old guy flying a sign on the corner of Halliday and MLK -- who, up close, doesn't look much older than me -- got what he needed and was able to sleep in doors last night. I want to believe that Tanya J. McDonald -- who told me her name 5 times and who was clearly released from a hospital with no sense of where she might end up -- was able to find peace and safety and some comfort in mourning her mother's death.

I saw them. I looked them in the eye and took their hands and helped in some small, temporary way. I want to believe it made a difference.

But I don't feel that optimistic today.

There's something about all the appropriate mourning and moaning here that's just so far-sighted in all the wrong ways. People see injustice at a distance and want to engage it. But when it's up close, they overlook. Or worse, they look through it like it's air.

Of course there's talk about Trump and  the peril to democracy -- mostly by white academics. When I hear work by writers of color, or by immigrant writers, or by people recounting stories of assault and the abuse of power, there is no presumption that democracy is in peril.

There is no presumption that democracy exists at all.


Beauty is abandoned
in the course of natural process --
the fragrance lingers,
a memory seized
right in the moment breath freezes.








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27 March, 2019

Field Notes, 26 March 2019: Savage Bones, Savage Beauty

Nice, if chilly, walk to a neighborhood coffeeshop. True, there was a Starbucks closer, but I wanted to find something local, something of the neighborhood, before I head downtown. Breakfast, along with a triple shot cappuccino, was a plank of avocado toast -- lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and sea salt. Delicious.

Spent a significant amount of time yesterday afternoon learning about the terroristic activities of the Portland area Proud Boys and the long tradition of racism, Sundown Laws, bigotry, and violent exclusion in Portland. 

Sadly, it echoes of home.


Apparently they are rolling around in groups looking for people to attack... specifically people who don't prescribe to the Proud Boy (read: fascist) ideology of gender normative dress and behavior. At least one member of the Trans Community here  has already been put in the hospital.

All the camps here are arming themselves, and all it will take it one dumb scared kid from either side to mishandle a firearm. It was pointed out to me that the Proud Boys are out numbered. It was pointed out to me at least three times. But the cops never fall on the side with Antifa. They tend to call this neutrality, or adherence to ensuring the law applies to everyone... but that falls as flat on an intelligent ear as the late night station guards insistence he is ticket checking everyone "regardless of what they look like."

America's savage and tribal underpinnings are being exposed like old tree root systems are exposed by heavy rain and flash floods.

But the water isn't going down any time soon.

Flowers blooming in South Portland
while workaday folks carry on.
Wind off the Willamette and Columbia
lay bare rusty bones
leaving us all standing on sand.


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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.)

Third: I COULD DIE AND I WASN'T WEARING CLEAN UNDERWEAR.

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.

Fourth: IF I SOMEHOW MANAGED NOT TO DIE, THE COST OF TRAVELING WILL GO UP.

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:

  • MONSANTO
  • GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
  • 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. 

DAMN IT ALL...

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.

FUCK ME.

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.


FUCK!


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.

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.)

THANKS FOR READING.

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:

  1. SHARE THE LINK
  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

"WHOOPS!"

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.




15 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) -Travel Hungover, Part 2: Kansas City

We know that all is impermanent; we know that everything wears out. Although we can buy this truth intellectually, emotionally we have a deep-rooted aversion to it. - Pema Chodron



A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it on a cold night. - 
Marilyn Monroe




Getting a few hours of sleep on that nearly deserted bus to Kansas City was almost as good as sex. (Almost.) I was so tired from the St. Louis Station that I didn't realize how tired I was. By the time the sun came up and the bus pulled into the station, I felt a little good enough that I wanted a cup of coffee and something to eat. 




The Kansas City Station was much smaller than St. Louis. There was a central waiting room, a restaurant, and the ticket counter. The interior was all white tile and blue highlights. There were a few people milling around, waiting for buses. The first thing I did was take a piss. The next thing I did was make a bee line for the restaurant for a cup of coffee and hoping to find something to eat that wasn't an overly expensive gastrointestinal nightmare.

Good Mood Food?  Finger Lickin' Good? You decide!

There's a fine line when you're eating on the road and on the cheap. And there are a few things to consider, beyond the obvious aversion to taking a dump in a rolling porta-potty. The first (and most obvious) thing to remember is that bus station food is overpriced. The second (and still probably most obvious) thing to remember is that if it's not cooked to order, it's probably been sitting for awhile.... especially the tuna and egg salad sandwiches.  The third thing ... which, if you're paying attention at all to what you eat, will be obvious... is that if it IS cooked to order, whatever food you're eating started the day in a freezer. And you probably don't want to think about what petri dish it began it's life in. 

But there's also the last, immutable fact of life on the road. At some point, to keep your strength and wits about you, you have to eat, since staying hydrated will only get you so far. So by all means, be aware of what you eat. But at some point, eat something.

The coffee was infinitely more important and the food merely an afterthought. Luckily, bus station shit slingers HAVE learned that some people feel much safer with fruit. My choice... nestled between the pre-made lunch meat and tuna salad sandwiches (each of which had a sticker indicating that they were prepared on Wednesday... which happened to be the day of the week... I thought. But there was no indication that it was THIS PARTICULAR Wednesday...) and the single serving bottles of whole, chocolate, and strawberry flavored milk, were some diminutive apples and shrunken oranges. An orange sounded good... Vitamin C, one of the great healers from Mother Nature's Kitchen, seemed like a good idea, even if the orange wasn't all that much to look at. They weren't rotting, and cost less than a dollar each. 

SOLD

That orange and a large black coffee cost me just over $3.00. Standing in line to pay for my meal, I watched the older, tired, rotund black woman snap the heads off two customers who tried to pay with $20 bills; apparently she was low on change. One patron... who it seemed like was entirely too familiar with the bus station (It's true... you start to recognize your own after a while) tried to pay for a cup of coffee with a wrinkled up double-sawbuck. When she opened up a Tyler Perry style retribution on her (Yes. Really.) he then offered to buy a toy truck in order to increase the amount of the sale. She dismissed the toy and waved him off, not mentioning the coffee. 

(He later tried to tell her she took his money and never gave it back. But neither he nor the woman behind the counter were convinced and he stopped mid-con and wandered away.)

When I got to the register I paid for my small meal with $5... which garnered me a smile... and from the look of the smile, she apparently did not contort her mouth into that shape very often.

I took my time eating the orange. One, because peeling it took a bit of time and the skin was a little thicker than I would have liked. But I also made a point to eat the orange slowly because I wanted to enjoy it. Some pleasures are fast ones. Some are slow, and should be enjoyed thoroughly. An orange. A cup of coffee. 

Simple things. Not perfect. But in the context, not bad at all.

My next order of business was to find a place to charge my phone. As it turned out, the Kansas City Station planned for such an emergency and had installed a cell phone charging station... a tiled counter at the edge of the waiting area lined with electric outlets. And unlike the so-called "courtesy stations" at the St. Louis Depot, the outlets were actually good outlets. 

None of that hollowed out loosey-goosey plug feel that I have come to associate strongly with St. Louis.

After a while my phone was charged enough to use, so I checked my mail and messages. While I was doing that, a guy wearing a camo print hat and t-shirt asked if he could borrow my plug to charge his phone. He said he'd lost his. I let him, primarily because there's nothing worse than needing to get a call out and being unable to. His name was Mark.

Mark was from Minnesota... he assured me a rural part of the state, far from the hectic city life around Minneapolis/ St. Paul... and was on his way to St. Louis. He'd bought a ticket and was ready to board a bus several hours before; but his ticket was a standby ticket and the bus was full. He needed to call his friend... a buddy from home he was on his way to see.  Mark told me he traveled from the tundra in search of work. He was an out of work carpenter. He asked me what I was doing and where I was headed. I told him, quite honestly, that I wasn't entirely sure and that I  simply wanted to get out of St. Louis. This made him naturally leery, I think, because after his phone was charged enough for a call and after I didn't have any cigarettes to sell him, he wandered off.

While I was continuing to charge my phone, I looked at the chart outlining bus departure times and destinations. South to Dallas (NOOOOOO!) was an option. West to Minneapolis was also an option. Eastbound, back through St. Louis (HELL NO) was a consideration. 

The next bus to Minneapolis was scheduled to leave at 3:00pm. According to my watch, it was around 10:30 am. I had friends in Minneapolis... friends I had intended to visit on my return swing from Oregon. I considered piecing together a path to Phoenix, which, would have included... UGH.... Texas. I also considered maybe trying to get to Salt Lake City. (I've had a powerful urge to creep out some Mormons lately. I can only assume that it's some reaction to Mitt Romney's hair.) I messaged my friends, Dave and Jamie, to see if I could bump up my visit to that night without putting them out. 

As I waited, I was approached by another man, who asked if I could watch his cell phone charge while stepped outside to smoke. Again, I accommodated. His named turned out to be Joe. Joe was on his way back to St. Louis. He'd come to Kansas City after splitting from his wife. He couldn't find work, which, from what he said, seemed to be the primary reason for the fighting. He had hoped that KC would provide more opportunities for work and a fresh start from a broken relationship; of course, neither worked out, and he was slinking back (not his words) in order to "work things out... you know... for the kids." 

He too asked me where I was heading and what I did for a living. It's the sort of generic demographic information that people ask when they travel in order to see if there are any essentials in common. After all, it's not outside the realm of possibility that you can meet someone from the same state as you when traveling. And when there's a common mode of transportation, there's a better than average chance that there maybe some career similarities. Or, at least sympathies.

When talking to friends, or to you, Dear Readers, I refer to myself as hobo. A bum. A pilgrim. A traveler. All of these are, in some technical way, true. And they take up all of my time.

But they are not, strictly speaking, considered career paths, anymore than being a poet is considered a viable occupation. (Viable -- code for tax paying, debt accruing, time wasting, soul killing filler of time between assumed adulthood and death.) I told Joe wasn't sure where I was headed, and that I didn't do anything in particular. 

He too, quickly moved off.

Eventually my phone was more or less completely charged, and I remembered that the restaurant sold a brand of cigarillos I sometimes smoke. And I still had time until the bus to Minneapolis was going to leave, plus I hadn't heard whether my arrival was propitious. So I bought a cigar and went outside to the smoking area, sat on a bench and enjoyed the breeze.

The smoking area was in back and partially under the large awning that made up the bus bay. I'd managed enough rest that I felt good, had enough coffee and nourishment that I felt refreshed, and was smoking a cigar that, while not my favorite, was one I liked, for the money. A cigarillo (not to be confused with a little cigar... trust me.) is a rare gentile pleasure. I have pipe, that's true, and some decent cheap shag. I also still have a few pinches of the good tobacco left from the shop in Cincinnati. But a cigarillo is a sweet respite, a calming balm, especially when you can sit out in a light warm breeze and enjoy it without having to be rushed,. without having to feel desperate for time or space or feel guilty about annoying the smokeless minions that would deny me nicotine and drive Hummers... rather than smoke a cigarette after enjoying a particularly enjoyable hummer.

One of the things I've noticed as I've been traveling, is the quiet desperation that people continue to live under. The news tells us the recession is over. I, for one, don't believe it. Because I see it everywhere I go. People roaming around, looking for work. Mark and Joe are only two examples from one stop. I run into people all the time who are trying to find some place in the world, some identity. Because we do tend to associate identity with occupation (AKA = the shit we do to earn money in the hopes of buying shit we don't need) ...in this country at least, and certainly in any culture that prizes occupation above happiness, that insists we take on obligations that are neither natural nor necessary for living or happiness, and that judges us accordingly for seeming to lack ambition. 

And the more of this I see, the more I am convinced that I am far luckier and far richer than anyone who can answer one of those generic demographic questions in a more predictable fashion.

I got word from Dave that my arrival would be fine, that there was a spare bed and that I was welcome to it as long as I needed it. Encouraged, thusly, I finished my cigarillo, walked back inside and  up to the ticket counter. The woman behind the counter looked stressed... fairly common among those employed in any customer service industry. She was younger than me by a couple of years, auburn hair tied back, blue eyes, pale skin. Attractive really. So I smiled, asked about the 3pm bus to Minneapolis. She was polite, smiled a little, and told me the bus really left at 2:45 and asked if I needed a ticket. 

I told her I didn't, because of my Discovery Pass; but, hoping maybe to improve her mood, or at least make her feel better about her job, I told her about The Mystery Box in St. Louis and asked if she didn't think that was odd. The story seemed to make her smile... or it could've been my hat, the oil cloth hat does inspire smiles from some people... and she told me that it probably wasn't strange for St. Louis. I agreed. 

"Yeah," she said. "There's probably not a lot that's strange for St. Louis." Then she told me... probably some latent reinforced job training... that if I saw anything strange like that there to please say something. I promised I would, and found a place to sit and wait for the bus.

As I walked away, she was still smiling.









13 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) – Travel Hungover: Leaving St. Louis

Detachment is enlightenment because it negates appearances. - Bodhidharma, The Wake Up Sermon

When I started this leg of the trip a few weeks back, my plan... in as much as I actually had one... was to head southwest, with an eye on avoiding Texas. The problem, as I discovered, was that because of the way the major bus routes are structured, it's next to impossible to do so without taking several indirect routes. In deciding how best to leave St. Louis... and believe me, I was more than ready; after two full days, I was beginning to feel more like a resident than an itinerant traveler.

The first night was long and a bit lonely... which was something I hadn't really felt in quite a while. I didn't feel all that lonely on my east coast leg, even when I was between the welcome solace of couches and spare beds of dear friends. Loneliness is one of those sensations that digs into your bones and lingers like the cold; it's a very different sort of feeling than being alone. Being alone is a state of being; being lonely is a state of mind. And as I explained to my Dear Sweet Ma in a recent phone call, I am well acquainted with being alone. To tell the truth, I've been alone most of my life. I spent hours alone when I was young, riding my bicycle on the back roads around where I grew up, sometimes parking and walking into the nearby woods or through undisturbed pastures. This is, I suspect, part of the kΓΌnstlerroman* : something integral to the growth and development of a writer. 

Now, it's true that we're not all lonely sad sacks; in fact, the case could be made... and it has, I'm sure, though I won't bother to look up the citations to prove my point... that a lot of writing that happens in this day and age happens in public, as a part... or an attempt to be a part... of some community or another. On a  pragmatic level, since leaving Pumpkin Hill in late January, you could argue that I've done most of my writing ... this blog, and the associated poetry... in public. In coffee shop, in bus and train stations, on buses, on trains, in friends' living rooms. And since I am doing what I do all for you, Dear Readers (and in the hope that, if you like it at all, that you'll a temporally and geographically fluid creature of the road on the move with occasional donations to the travel fund... much thanks and gawd bless)  there's an element of you all in all that I do.

Yes... there's more of some of you than others. But don't quibble I love you all. And NO, I don't think that's creepy at all.

My initial plan for leaving St. Louis was to take the Los Angeles bound bus. That would take down through the southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, and into Phoenix, where I also have friends, one or two who have offered to let me crash when and if I happen to make it back out to Valley of the Sun. The initial problem, of course, was that it would also take me through Texas... which, no offense to the city of Austin (which I understand is quite nice), I would prefer to avoid. And if I got on the west coast bus I would end up having to spend quite a bit of time in Texas: Pecos and Amarillo to be sure, as well as El Paso. I know this because it's the exact same route I took on my move to Phoenix and eventually my move to Northwest Illinois... which I wrote about in my kindle edition essay, The Greyhound Quartos. Other than wanting to avoid the sketchy bus station in Amarillo, I was also concerned that I was taking a trip I had already been on; in other words, there was nothing new, other than my situation, about traveling by bus from St. Louis to Phoenix.

Most of the other buses out of St. Louis were going east, or south. I wasn't ready to go south, and I had just come east. The only other bus was one going to Kansas City. It left an hour and forty-five later than the L.A.bus, which wasn't going to pull out until one in the morning. And while my intention is to end up, before the end of the summer, in Eugene, Oregon on the doorstep of friend, writer, and Grindbone Brother Noah S. Kaplowitz  before I head back east for some peace and respite in Kentucky and some future planning for a Southern Fried Leg and next year's European Ennui Extension, my initial plan was to loop UP to Eugene after going through California and seeing the Pacific Ocean... not to mention a visit to San Fran and City Light Books (a literary mecca, and home base of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of my few living literary heroes). 

After some thought and some careful consultations... since the lack of sleep and the weight of worry over The Mysterious Box were starting to impact my ability to think semi-lucid thoughts... I decided, finally, to leave my path up to fate and the whim of the great magnet:

If the line of passengers going to the west coast was too long, I'd take my chances on the Kansas City bus at 2:45 am.

So I waited. And I watched Gate 4. The line started to grow around midnight, and by 15 minutes to boarding, it was sufficiently long enough for me to decide that the great magnet wanted me to go to Kansas City.

It was impossible for me to sleep at that point; if I could get comfortable enough and if I did close my eyes... scratch that. I could've slept leaning against a wall full of hot irons at that point. But if I DID, chances were better than average that I would wake up, Still in St. Louis, becoming even more of a resident among the throng of potential passengers, waiting family and friends, custodians, cops, and trepidatious sedentarily challenged souls like myself who, when I took off my boots to simply stretch my toes, cleared out 20 foot radius of space thanks to the righteous stank of my poor old doggies. 

Never mind the fact that, other than a change of underwear, a splash of water, and a fresh application of Old Spice, I hadn't had a shower since Louisville. And I had spent one of those days in between walking around Hannibal looking for the spinning ghost of Sam Clemens. 

Luckily, the Kansas City bus was light on passengers so  that I could stretch out, and empty enough that I could stretch out without having to worry... too much... about offending anyone too much. And since the trip was a good 5 or 6 hours through the dark, I would have some quiet time to sleep.

Which, Dear Readers, I did. Finally.

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As I make my way west, most likely through the Blackhills and into Montana, drop me a line and give me heads up about cheap/free accommodations, shelters, houses of hospitality, etc. Also, if there are any open mics anywhere, either on my way through or on my way back at the end of summer, let me know. I'll recount stories and songs and poems from the road for loose change, coffee, or soup. Really. I'll even shower. Maybe....]

08 May, 2012

Homo Viator: The Westward Expanse -- Hannibal, MO (Also Titled, The Mysterious Box)


Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was "raised" there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place. -- Mark Twain, private letter (1867)



 But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it.  I been there before.  -- 
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)






The Mysterious Box
The one bus to that goes Hannibal -- on a regular route that ends at, of all places, Burlington, Iowa -- left St. Louis at 7:30 this morning. I was punchy tired from lack of sleep, having given up trying to pretend to get any rest sometime around 3 in the morning when it became clear that not only was the entire management of the St. Louis Depot bound and determined that I NOT sleep ... for reasons beyond human reckoning the powers that be in the corporate igloo at Greyhound Bus Lines have determined that benches in bus station waiting rooms are made to make you think the bus seats are entirely more comfortable and better for your ass than they actually are... and I said NOT ONLY THAT, Dear Readers, but the intrusion of


THE MYSTERIOUS BOX*

kept me enraptured for the biggest part of the night. 

Now, because Greyhound also does a sideline on shipping... how they've managed to succeed, I have no idea, since they're expensive and have the same weight restrictions as the USPS... there are always boxes. And people do pack boxes to travel. So it's not the mere presence of a box that bothers me.

What bothers me is that in some other, more affluent context... if it was even sitting by an Amtrak Gate... an abandoned box would garner more attention. If it was at an airport, they'd call out the bomb squad, the squat team. The Department of Homeland Security would be involved, and maybe the FBI. News trucks would crowding in as close as possible, cameras angled to catch the low on the totem pole talking heads AND the box in the same shot so the audience can get a palpable sense of What Is Really Happening.

But this Mysterious Box, left between Gate 2 and Gate 3 at the St. Louis Greyhound Bus Depot, gets none of that. At one point last night, a custodian stood next to the box and leaned on her push broom to watch some talentless hack yodel on The Voice. And then she swept AROUND the box and moved on.

Really.

And can I just say... I hate musicals. Really. Rogers and Hammerstein, if there's a hell, belong in it for the abomination that is Oklahoma! If that doesn't convince you, The Sound of Music sure as hell should. The hills are alive my ass. The Hills Have Eyes, and they turn yodeling nuns into meth hookers like THAT (snap.)

But I left The Mysterious Box and the fairly insulated climate of the bus depot in order to go to Hannibal, the boyhood home of one Samuel Clemens... who later wrote himself in Mark Twain.

Now, I realize that there's a cottage industry taking license and making money on his pen name and image. In fact, one of the pictures I DIDN'T take was of the new Chamber of MOTHER FUCKING Commerce Building at the corner of Main and Broadway. Not only did they have his image and signature etched into the large window glass, they had dolls... full sized mannequins... of children dressed like Tom Sawyer and Becky. [CREEPY SHIT. Even for a disorganized body like a Chamber of MOTHER FUCKING Commerce.]

So I avoided the museum, the hotel, and the tour of his childhood home. I didn't want to go see the version of Mark Twain they were buying and selling... even more than he, in the end, bought and sold himself. I wanted to see if I could catch a glimpse of what it was he saw. Foolish, I know, since Hannibal, like every other small town in America, is trying to figure out how to survive. 

If you want to find the heart and soul of a small town, you need to get away from the interstate by-pass as quickly as possible. The buildings along the by-pass is the stuff they want strangers to see. 

And if the town happens to be a river town, then you need to go in search of the river, since that's where the place began. All river towns... Hannibal, Missouri, Savanna, Illinois, Maysville, Kentucky, all of them... crawled out of river commerce. Businesses brought houses,  bars, brothels, deep shadows. Most river towns try and hide this part of themselves... tourists aren't nearly as impressed by the easy access to meth and hookers as they are to restored steamboats turned into restaurants and old timey musak being piped onto the streets. (No, Hannibal isn't doing that. Yet.)

The bus dropped me off at the Hardees on James Street, near the interstate. I looked around for signs of where the river might be and headed in that direction, figuring that either  the landscape or the buildings would tell me. I walked through a lot of residential neighborhood between the businesses close to the by-pass and center of town. Except for a family style pizza and sub restaurant, there was no hint of a bar until I was past the Marion County Administration Building. I was glad to see more than a few hole in the wall bars, and regretful that I had neither the money nor the time ... okay, I didn't have the money... to sit down and drink a beer.

I have no idea what this gloriously dilapidated house on Broadway and Sixth used to be. But there's a bar in the basement, the Down Under Lounge. Today was Taco Tuesday. I didn't stop.

In addition to selling the soul of Mark Twain for the sake of a greasy buck -- which is, I realize, no more than he did to himself -- Hannibal does venerate other important citizens. Like a lawyer:

No really. He's a lawyer. He did something else, according to the plaque, created some Office of Some Thing or Another at the federal level. So not only was he a lawyer, he was a bureaucrat.

Perfect.


It's difficult to get a sense of the place as it was, since
any mention of the Hannibal that Clemens might known is filtered through the cheese cloth of nostalgia. The new Chamber of Commerce building is proof of that. I know I'm talking about it and not posting pictures. But I was afraid one of them might see me and take it as some encouragement to continue. I don't know if the kids Twain had in mind really dressed that way or if it was some flight of fancy by the original illustrator that put Tom Sawyer in bib overalls and a corn straw hat... an ensemble that looks more in place in a Norman Rockwell painting than a what is essentially a murder mystery. (Read Tom Sawyer.  Not now. Later. But read it. The same with Huck Finn.)

When I finally made it to the river... which meant crossing a set of railroad tracks... I felt a certain amount of ease. True, it's not the place Sam Clemens knew growing up. There's no real sense of how he ended up becoming Mark Twain in any of the landscape. So when I say, he wrote himself INTO Mark Twain, that's what I mean. We're a voyeur culture. That's why his boyhood home is such a economic nugget. Our culture likes to lay people open and dissect them, generally misinterpreting them in the process. In this, we're a bloody and efficient culture that has learned to reduce everyone... writers, artists, computer technicians... to a niche. Categorize and dismiss. Mark Twain is a grouch with white hair and mustache who wrote quaint books no one reads and everyone finds offensive. A bureaucrat deserves a statue, a plaque, and an addtional sign (yes) that repeats what the plaque says. The Chamber of MOTHER FUCKING Commerce deserves a prominent building in the newer part of town, but downtown, an empty store front window can read

 BUILDING FOR SALE, LEASE, OR TRADE.

But that's just commerce, right? The way the ball bounces. And to be fair, Mark Twain had no issue with commerce... merely the greed that tends to accompany it.  



The best part of Hannibal was sitting down at the river, staring at the water, and thinking about the face that just over on the other side of that river, there are people I care about very much, and who are amazingly supportive my need to wander, even if they don't understand. I'm not sure I understand. There's a lot going on with me that I don't quite understand. But I like that I don't. The only reason I picked Hannibal, Missouri to visit was because I love Mark Twain -- the older, darker, slightly annoyed that no one ever got the joke Mark Twain -- and because I had never been there before. I never had any intention of doing the tours, even if I had the money.  Because that is a different trip than this one. 

And while I have lonely moments, I never feel alone. The people I care about and who care about me know (I hope) that I carry them with me like I carry my blue rucksack. I think of them daily. I don't expect them to think of me, but I know some of them do...which is a nice feeling. Warm and fuzzy and full of a deep longing to see them again, to tell them about my traveling, and to make them feel like they're with me. 

Yes, I have my sentimental moments. Lately I've rediscovered that not only do I like honest gushing mushiness, but that it's good for the soul. So suck on my left nut and deal with it.

People often cite Huck Finn as one of those idyllic characters from a nostalgic time. So much more innocent than we... the pinnacle that we imagine ourselves. Huck, who, like Twain, grew up in a world desensitized to human misery and degradation. Huck, though, unlike Tom Sawyer, had no intention of being anything other than himself. He is at once a parody, a paragon, and a prototype. One that we ought to be paying more attention to.

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ALSO: In my bum rush to get out of Louisville in some dignified manner... which, admittedly, didn't work... I forgot to thank Amanda and Shawn and Heather for putting up with me. I had a blast and was able to renew a friendship that is very important to me. A good time all the way around. :)  ]

__________________________________________________________

*At the time of publication, The Mysterious Box remains unmoved, unexplained, and unopened.


07 May, 2012

Homo Viator: The Westward Expanse - St. Louis

Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull of what you really love. -- Rumi


Dear Readers, I FINALLY broke the barrier, somehow sneaking across the Mississippi and making it safe and sound to St. Louis.

Now, it's true: I wasn't all that thrilled about the prospect of wandering, once again, through the often described Gateway to the West. It's entirely possible that my stubbornness related to my desire to avoid St. Louis... simply because I wanted to breach the western lands at a different location... is part of the reason why I always seemed to get smacked back from crossing the river in the first place.


It's also entirely possible that the universe really IS out to get me; or, at the very least, out to push me in ways I'd rather not go. But rather than feed THAT paranoid little thought...

When I got here I was in no real hurry to jump back onto another bus. After all, I want leisurely travel, I want to be able to not have to rush around a whole lot, unless there's no option.

(There's almost always an option.)

So I considered my options.. after eating a chicken sandwich and drinking a much needed cup of coffee.

Now, the coffee wasn't great. But it was of slightly higher quality than the grainy vending machine coffee at the Louisville station. And, without caffeine... specifically without COFFEE... I sleep or turn into a giant puddle. It was perfectly fine to sleep on the bus, since driving from Nashville, through Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois held very little appeal for me. 

But once off the bus, I had to think. 

Initially, I was under the impression that there was no direct Greyhound Bus route from St. Louis to Hannibal... even though it's only a couple of hours away. Frustrating, but not surprising. I mean, it's only the boyhood home of one of America's most venerated writers.  And it's not as if anyone reads, outside of class or requirement... except, dear readers, you dear and sacred few. 

So I looked through the schedule and found  a loophole. 

I could hop a bus to Kansas City and backtrack; but that would add almost two hole days of travel time, and the 60 days on my Discovery Pass are ticking. Then I looked and saw that I could do the same thing, only go to Columbia, Missouri, which was closer, and would only add a day. 

I verified to bus schedule with the ticket counter. After that, I noticed my phone needed charging, so went in search of a plug, finding one in the large hall heading towards the bus gates, near the floor. So I dropped my stuff, popped a squat on the floor, and plugged in my phone. 

Not long after that, however, a member of the cleaning service came by and told me I wasn't allowed to charge my phone there. She barked the words more than spoke them, like she had barked them a lot. Before I had a chance to ask WHERE I might charge my all too necessary cellular phone device, she asked whether I was on the bus or the train.

"On the bus," I said.

"There are courtesy cell charging stations near the bus gates," she said, waving a latex gloved hand towards the bus gates behind her and rushing off. Not wanting to be a problem, I unplugged, unpopped my squat, picked up my blue bag and my coat, and walked over to the bus gates, where  had come in through only an hour or so before.

A note about Courtesy Stations: Nice idea, bad follow through. The plugs are always stripped and sometimes you have to go through several to find one that carries an electrical current. If you're lucky, though, where there is a courtesy charging station, there's a hidden wall plug that's in good shape. Usually behind a fake tree or a a bench. Just look. It can't hurt.

While I was charging my phone, however, I looked up from where I was sitting and noticed this:



That's right, Dear Readers.  Greyhound doesn't have a direct route to the land that spawned Samuel Clemens. But Burlington Trailways does. I dug my netbook out and looked them up. There was only one bus, and it left at 7:30 in the morning.  (I later confirmed this again at the ticket window.)There were no other schedules; but it was a two hour trip with no stops. Then I looked up to make sure that Burlington Trailways is one of the bus lines that accepts my Discovery Pass... and moreover, upon asking, I learned that I didn't even need a boarding pass.

So even though I'm once again spending the night in a bus depot, I'm not losing any time in my trip to Hannibal, where I'll spend the day tomorrow and hopefully hop another bus, headed either to the Ozarks or some other point west.

Sleep well, Dear Readers. And  with one eye open.