Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

20 September, 2019

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






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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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20 August, 2019

In Motion


Chicago --

Getting out of River City is always fraught. Or, at least, it seems that way lately. I tell myself it's important to remind myself: it's the time of year. Summer travel is a always a little .... more. More crowded. More expensive. More prone to run late. 

I decided to cheat on the old grey dog and use Megabus for my run up to Chicago. Yes, I could have taken a bus up to Indy and rode train... except that regional train travel is complicated thanks to the monumental lack of foresight that led to the decommissioning of the Indiana State Hoosier. It would have extended this leg of my trip a bit too long, and I would have had to spend at least one night in the Indiana Depot... an accommodation I've experienced many, many times too many.  In order to be an even more particular traveler, I opted for the option. -- at the cost of an additional $2 -- to reserve a specific seat. I chose one on the left side of the bus, next to the window, near the front, on the top level. 

That proved to be a complete waste of time. Not only was the bus an hour late, but my seat and the one next to it were taken up by a future seminary student and his prodigious amount of luggage. I wasn't the only one to fall prey the hopeful, false advertising.  Two women across the aisle and one row up from me were actually sitting in seats that had been reserved by a young woman and her friend. When the young woman attempted -- politely -- to explain they were sitting in her seats, they were incredibly rude. Sure, they were probably still sore at being bamboozled. But that's no reason to call a fellow sufferer a bitch.

Bus travel isn't my preferred mode, but it gets the job done. Mostly. At least regionally.

So I remind myself the delays are seasonal. Interstates are construction- choked arteries. There are more people on the road, and because we're heading out during rush hour, delay is almost guaranteed.   But there's been a steady increase in people moving around the country by bus. Flying can be prohibitively expensive, and trains don't go everywhere people really need them to go.

More people are in motion, for reasons and excuses to numerous to list. No, they're not traveling; at least, not traveling in the sense that I travel. And they're not vacationing in that Sunday Morning retirement IRA commercial sense, either. But people are in motion. Not in control, but still in a damned hurry. And because of this, and because public transit goers tend to see themselves as consumers rather than the consumed, the gentility and etiquette I saw a few years back is wearing off like tired, neglected paint. 

But the sunset in Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, is lovely. The colors are autumnal: purples and blues highlighted with splashes of tangerine, splashed across the sky above an endless ocean of green fields waiting for the harvest. And that, more than anything, is why I don't drive.
   

06 August, 2019

Hashtag Sick: A Word-Thing


I am sick of the world through a social media lens

I am sick of bad distillation,
sick of all the negative inflation,
sick of feeling like I’ve been infiltrated
                                                                with a social disease –

some social disease fermented in the belly
of a sick, poisoned pig
gestated in the minds
of fear-mongers and profiteers

tired of being told to lock my doors
tired of being told the cops are my friends
tired being told white fascist terrorists
                                                              are just “mentally ill.”

We are all mentally ill!
We are sick with fear
being fed through a social media tube
sick from being screwed with social media lube

tired of being told
by one more keyboard psychologist
with a Google Search PhD
that this fascism
is not what we see

and that all we need
is a gun-toting Jesus
to pave our safe way.

I am pissed off and sick
of a country crucified on an AK

pissed off and sick
pissed off and sick
pissed off and sick

and the only thing I know
the only real trick
is to get far away
from this social media schtick:

to put on well-worn boots
to put on my hat
to grab my rucksack
to pick up my walking stick

and see the world through a lens unmuddied
by profiteers and fear mongers --

to see with a vision unmolested
                                unassimilated and
                                divinely unsullied.

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31 July, 2019

[re: lines on the day I remembered my father's birthday]

"Your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick"  - Iggy Pop/David Bowie


For years I drove out by the old house to see what the new occupants had done to wreck the place. The time I drove out and saw the buried wagon wheels at the end of the driveway, like some broken redneck gate straight out of HGTV and the western-chic issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I knew my father's imprint was worn off. Finally, indescribably, gone.

And even as I write this, I don't know that I ever made peace with that -- until now, as I come to terms with how I feel about being at my mom's, and how my own wounded vision has impacted not only how I feel about this place, but about my Losantiville as a whole. 

Only now do I understand that I must see this place like any other place -- and that this vision must extend to all places. Even the ones I allow myself to be attached to.


Summer ends just as it begins.
Places abide in a mourner's memory,
an early morning dew. No house
holds out against the wind. No island
holds out against the current.


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30 April, 2019

On Being Present In Spite of the Kentucky Derby

Hawthorns. Yep, they hurt.
I travel for the same reasons I eventually come home. This is often difficult to explain to people who either aren't pushed in seemingly opposite directions by the currents or who have denied their impulse for wanderlust and diaspora. For those who are similarly afflicted as I am, no explanation is needed, but please, brothers and sister, bear along while I wander this thought to some stopping point or another. 

It's a short leg, I promise.

There are currents at work in both cases, but in neither case am I afflicted by a sense that something is missing or lack of satisfaction. The only real difference is this: when I'm out, I attune to the rhythm of the road almost immediately, like stepping through a door. But when I come home, there's always a reentry process, like having to wait in a decompression chamber so that my lungs can breathe the air of home again.  It's not even about the tangible things in my home life -- my sobriety, my relationship with Amanda, my needy dog or apathetic cat, the house and the familiar and comforting things housed there. Where I have the most trouble is in the intangibles: things that I am compelled by socialization or cultural imprinting to care about: the condition of my yard; seemingly petty and oddly mean-spirited technological issues; the status of our battle to keep the bank from taking our home, in spite of us doing everything right in order for that NOT to happen; business clients who don't pay their invoices on time; obligations created out of cultural necessity -- like most bills, showering, and wearing pants; and locally, the hubbub over the very decadent and very depraved Kentucky Derby -- that fastest two minutes of sport that create that have contributed to a pendulum like boom and bust economy, not to mention labor exploitation, sex trafficking, and the continued exploitation of the city's homeless population in an attempt not to offend the tourists who come here, piss in the street, and call it bourbon.

There are battles here that are worthwhile, and ensuring that rich touristas have positive few of the town I have chosen to call home is not one of them.  But am glad that of the things I hang onto from being out, the things I continue to foster with my personal daily Practice, the idea of being focused on the here and now remains central to my decision-making process about how to (and if) to interact with any of it.

When I'm out on the road, I work to maintain a relaxed but present state of mind, and I try to stay open to whatever experiences and people I can. Through my daily Practice, I'm working to maintain that same relaxed but present state of mind off the road. It's more difficult than it sounds because, in spite of the hassles of traveling (including a lost suitcase), the distractions of a stationary life can fill the ol' brain chamber up with all kinds of things that can distract me from remaining present and being open to the world as it unfurls itself on a daily basis. Things that cause me to miss the beauty and the savagery that are just as present here in Louisville as they are on the road.

Whippoorwills sing
as the coffee cools.
The dog naps, defying
her need to hunt the song
down. Here I sit, listening


waiting for something
maybe the sound
of a gong: a guide,
a rhyme, a tune
encoded in each ring.


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16 April, 2019

From Field Notes: Excerpts, 7th-9th April 2019 - Orange Poppy, Long Gone

7 April


view of the Wakarusa River
Spent the early afternoon downtown. Had lunch with the Market Street Irregulars and then had the opportunity to visit my friend, local artist Heather Houzenga, at her shop at the base of Market Street. We mostly hung out in front of her shop, which lends itself to the opportunity of running into other people. At one point there were maybe 5 of us including Heather, Ray, Dave Cuckler, and Jeff Creath, who split time between Carroll County, Waukegan, and parts unknown with his wife and fellow globetrotter, Kat. There were also two dogs, including Heather's new pooch, Handsome, a boxer mix that is still very much a puppy... but a happy one, and Ray's lovely dog Lady.

It felt good just to be able to hang out on the street without anyone wondering whether something illegal is happening -- one of the graces that is still afforded in a place like Mount Carroll, Illinois.

At one point, later in the day, Dave was downstairs playing guitar and singing, and I was listening through the floorboards. There are moments we experience that resonant, repeat, and carry us backwards and forwards in time, embodying all of our sense memories into a distilled, rich, existential bliss. Listening to Dave Cuckler sing through the floorboards is one such moment, and it let me know that I was, if only briefly, at a place where I still have a home.

Music through the floorboards
that long remembered smile.
A congregation of old friends,
dogs, and peaceful passersby.

8 April

The river is high here, like everywhere else. Parts of Savanna are flooding. The power and prestige of the Old River 1 never ceases to amaze me.

The river lays siege to the flood plain
reminding people (again)
these ancient arteries
will wash away
what passes for Empire.

9 April

I was able to take some time yesterday and walk around town a bit. On my way back to where I'm staying, I walked up the Washington Street hill and over to S. West Street, by the house I lived in here with my ex. Inexplicably, the place is still standing and there's a family living there.

I know it seems strange to some people that I like coming back here. One local musician, a friend of a friend, upon figuring out that I was actually me and discovering that I showed up intentionally to visit, asked what I was visiting for. There's a basic assumption among some folks about this place... an assumption I hear more from people who are born and raised from here -- that there is nothing here. Or, at any rate, there's nothing here that would be of any interest to anyone not from here.

But the truth is that I learned a lot here. Mount Carroll is the place I learned to embrace a place and find beauty, poetry, and music -- even when there is a (very) thin veneer of stasis, greed, and ugliness. It was here I learned to live more in the moment and to seek out community rather than expect it to come find me. It was here that I learned what the word home means -- with all those fraught implications.

It was here that I learned what it means to dive deep and follow the currents. What I didn't learn here was not to dive TOO deep. I had to learn that later.

Some things persist
in spite of soft memory.
What is not erased
is a reminder that 
what we carry in the present
we picked up in the past.

Orange Poppy, Long Gone



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08 April, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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26 March, 2019

Field Notes, 24 March 2019: Beautifully Savage

[Indianapolis:]

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

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

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

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

[Near Chicago Union Station]

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

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


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

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

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




[Harmonee Ave/Glenview, IL]

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

[Flooded plains outside Columbus, Wisconsin]

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

[All that's left is the thaw]

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


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

[Black River, WI]

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

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


[First 'Air Break'/ Flood Fight]

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

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

-MKP
~

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22 February, 2019

Reading the Grounds


Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
Embrace the break in weather where you can. True, there are months when the last time you saw the sun feels like a dream; but when the rain break and there is a clear path, take advantage of it the best you can. [from Field Notes]

Even though I'm not bound to foot travel -- there is the bus, of course, and most recently, Mule -- I still like to walk. True, I could start up Mule and drive to a park and walk around a pre-designated track. I see merit in it, certainly for other people, because it's difficult enough to get exercise in a society that depends on us sitting in front of a computer, or staring at our phones, buying things. True, if you look long enough, nearly every aspect of the constructed reality we experience every day depends on commerce of some kind: whether it's the cappuccino I bought at the coffee shop today or the smiles my wife and I exchanged this morning before she left for work. But when I am not in motion in the world, there are fewer opportunities to see the world as it truly is instead of the filtered commodity that trickles in through my phone or my computer. When I am not in motion in the world, I'm not even certain the world exists.

Living as I do along the Ohio River, a once major artery of commerce of all kinds from coal, to slaves, to settlers, in a city whose very existence depended on commerce and The Falls that created a natural choke point for people to have to slow down and walk their boats through (Once Upon a Time), the metaphor and myth of commerce are a foundation upon which many myths have been  built.

But it's easy to let that take over... which is to say, it's easy to let that constructed reality dictate our
Mick Parsons #rubbertramp
Mule
our entire lives. And if the materialists are correct -- both the Capitalists and the Communists -- and we are simply matter in motion, then really, this constructed reality is nothing more than an increasingly complex maze we spend our days and nights in until one day, we stop moving and the maze moves on without us.

Unless there's something more. And when I walk around my neighborhood, or anywhere, and take in the sounds, the feel of broken cement underfoot, the vibrations of the coolish February air here in the grand divot that is the Ohio River Valley, I end up thinking of commerce as something more than buying and selling, more than money for sweat and blood, more than blood and bone in the name of man's most majestic and dangerous machination -- Contemporary American Society. 

This is why, I think, I am bound to travel whether I think I want it or not. A warm wind kicks up, the currents shift, and nothing is set right until I feel this world moving under foot. Because it's only in motion that this constructed reality shakes loose and the world opens itself wide for eyes willing to see, for ears willing to listen, and for hands willing to embrace it on its own terms. 


As old mystics read tea leaves
I flip my empty cup
open the heart, examining
the dark grounds and find
one more map towards
the river mouth and the sea.

Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
The past is gone, the future is full.



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15 February, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots: Be Safe Out There [a brief ethnography]


The middle-aged black man was wearing a blue suit coat that was too big for him, worn around the cuffs, and missing a couple of buttons. It was October, and after dark, which meant it was a little chilly. His clothes under the blue coat were rattier than the coat. Tired flipflops left his feet exposed. In his hands, he held an empty baby bottle. He approached me after I finished pumping gas. Debit cards weren't a thing in those days, and neither were card readers on gas pumps. But in that part of the city, near the university and Short Vine -- another area I ended up spending a lot of time -- you walked in and paid before you pumped. And I've always preferred cash transactions, anyway --chalk that up to my small towniness. 

The town where I'm from isn't remote or isolated in a geographic sense, but I learned early there are other kinds of distance, other types of geography that are difficult to cross -- especially when it's crossed under duress. And truthfully, crossing the distance between where I'm from and where I have ended up wasn't so much a problem for me. But it took me a long time to figure out that there's no going back. Not really.

Cincinnati was the first place I escaped to when I got my driver's license. It was the closest city, and the nearest place of any size. And though I didn't mean to end up there, necessarily, I ended up in a part of town that I would, and do, return to: Over the Rhine. In those days, Vine Street was still an open market for pretty much any illicit thing you could want. Not that I tried any of it; I still had a healthy dose of small town naivete that, for good or bad, managed to save me. But I did witness my first drug deal and accidentally walk up on a sex trade transaction. All the parties involved were amused by my small town whiteness -- amused and too busy to punish me for it. Because while Cincinnati was a dangerous place, and while OTR was probably the place furthest from where I lived -- for a whole host of reasons -- it never once occurred to me that I might have been in danger. I explored it with an anthropologist's curiosity -- and detachment -- that has served me well over the years, no matter how deep I dived or how close to the bottom I got.

He started in by telling me he wasn't just panhandling. He was passing through, he said, pointing directionlessly towards the interstate. His car broke down and his wife and baby daughter stayed with the car because it was chilly out. He waved the baby bottle at me as proof that his story was true. In the moment it didn't occur to me that he might just be hustling for drug money; it did occur to me that he sounded too practiced to be in moment. Growing up as I did around a few truly ineffective liars, I had started to pick up an ear for that sort of thing.  But also, in that moment, I didn't care. I don't know if it was the dedication to his story, or the flip flops. But I gave him a few dollars, wished him luck.

- Be safe out there, I said. And then I got in my car and left, traversing the various geographies back to my hometown, where panhandlers were prime time television extras, where the poverty was just as palpable, but somehow different. A place I would not be able to look at in the same way, or ever really be able to stay -- though at the time I wasn't aware that anything in me had shifted.

I think about him often and wonder whatever happened to him. I see him in every face I've met doing outreach. I've revisited that moment hundreds, maybe thousands of times over the years. And while I don't know if that was when it all changed or when it first occured to me that something had, I'm forever grateful that he crossed my path.


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16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
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01 January, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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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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28 June, 2018

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

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a related note: 

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

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

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

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

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

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

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

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

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

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

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

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



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25 June, 2018

A baboon in La La Land



I wonder if the fundamental nature of LA changed when the common vernacular switched from Los Angeles to the monosyllabic "LA."

Granted, numerology HAS fallen out of favor... but then again, this is LA, where you can be everything from a sun worshipper to a vampire, a vapid consumerist to a dirty hippy, and everyone somehow manages to share the same sushi bar. This town is the first place I've ever been that doesn't have a general uniform... something that most people wear that identify them as either part of the living and working community or, well, not. In Lexington in the late 90's, the standard masculine uniform was khaki pants and some shade of green shirt. Keep in mind this isn't something that was at all agreed upon; it simply happened of its own accord, as if men working downtown all went and bought up all the tan pleated pants they could. In larger cities like New York and Chicago, people's status is defined by the winter coat they wear. Lots of gray and black wool and classic lines. Some years long coats are fashionable, but the actual color and fabric changes very little.  Even New Orleans, the most intentionally libertine place I've ever lived, had something like a dress code, though I'm unsure of that is the case now.  It's the same in suburban and rural areas, too. And regionally, clothes are just SLIGHTLY different from region to region... little things like the cut of a collar or the weight of the fabric.

Except for LA -- which I want to distinguish ontologically and existentially from the rest of California.

Some places are more bound by geography than others. Louisville, for example, is always defined by the river. It grew out of the river, organic and disparate like the river itself. Denver has the mountains. Other places are not limited by geography in quite the same way. Indianapolis, for example, can plan, build, and erase with only the limitations of budget and imagination to limit them. Indianapolis, for example, has some of the best urban bike lanes I've ever seen... primarily because they can just remake the sidewalk and the road without having to contend with narrow streets winding between historic architecture. They can just demolish and rebuild. Louisville has deep eddies of history to contend with... some of which it deals with very badly, especially if it has anything to do with the history of anything west of 9th Street.  But I digress.

LA is, in some ways, very much like Indianapolis in that it simply has to erase and rebuild. While there are a few shadows of something like history, the fact is that LA has so much culture, so much that has happened here, that the sheer amount of it has erased a common feel of what this town is like. LA can be anything for anybody at anytime. At any given moment, an endless multiverse of LAs exist simultaneously and within the same geographic boundaries. LA is a painting left out in the rain. All the colors melt and go muddy until there is hardly any of one distinct anything left.

This can make it difficult to contend with, especially if you're a history and story junkie like me. Unfair as it is, the LA that exists in my mind is one painted by John Fante, Bukowski, Nathanael West, and Van Halen.  This wasn't the LA I found, exactly. But then again, it was difficult to have what someone might reasonably call the  "LA Experience" when I was either enveloped in MFA Residency work or cloistered in my Culver City (still LA) motel room working on client work. It's not that there weren't social opportunities. There were. But between work needing to be done and the fact that, at 7 months sober, I still don't feel like I can walk into a bar just to say howdy and not ask for a beer and a shot, I found it easier to be a little anti-social.  Or at least, not walk into a bar while in a place -- geographically, ontologically, and existentially -- where all of my anxieties and fears that I used as excuses to drink would be in play and nipping at the back of my brain like a cattle dog.

And it's not that I think LA is devoid of stories. It's just hard to crack the surface without the usual social lubricant. And as much as I enjoyed being in the company of other word junkies, the fact is I don't much trust writers when it comes to embracing an authentic experience of anything. Writers, like alcoholics, are experts at gaming themselves and wrapping themselves in a reality to suit their needs... even if that reality is largely an antagonistic one.  And because LA is truly its own multiverse, created, revised, and deleted with impunity, I have a difficult time feeling anything close to comfortable here. I lumber too large and occupy the space in a bizarre way. I feel permanently awkward here in a way that I don't feel anywhere else.

And yes, I know its in my head. And yes, to a degree perception is reality. But I'm too much the stoic Ohio Valley Boy to ever really accept that all I have to do is blink and shake my head and somehow magically the sensation changes.  Some things just ARE because they are, whether we like them or not.

And geographic cures are bullshit.

I do wonder, though, if numerology isn't at least partially to blame. I wonder if LA would be a different place if it wasn't reduced in the common imagination to LA... and all the odd, shiny stuff that single syllable holds. I wonder if we thought of angels instead of movie stars if somehow, the multiverse would shift and the stories would come into focus.

I'm going to have to come back to find out, though.






06 November, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 6: The Pilgrim's Process

Stop fighting it, Pilgrim George, Himself. He pushed his keys into my hand. We got to be at The Place three days hence and we cannot linger long here at the foot of the tree.
I asked him what this place was and why we had to get there, and why, on top of that, did Rex and Tex the Younger have to meet us there instead of just going with us. He slapped on the back then reached up and tousled my hair.  Then he told me not to worry and that all my questions would be answered by and by.

 Now you be sure and take extra special care of this Caddy while you're drivin' it. I like you, Pilgrim George, and think you got it in you to become something spectacular. He stopped to finished lighting the cigarette he just rolled and stuck between his clenched teeth. But that don't mean I won't skin you alive. A man don't need skin to drive.
How a man could drive without skin I didn't know, but I had no intention of finding out. But it was all I could do to keep the Caddy on road. The steering wheel pulled against me and the car bucked and swerved... 'cept it didn't buck and swerve like some broken down jalopy. No, sir. That El Dorado bucked and swerved like a horse that couldn't wait to jump the fence and run. All 12 cylinders were working their best to tear me off that wheel. That didn't seem to bother Himself none, though. He just sat in the passenger seatI tried telling him I didn't know where to go. He grunted and pointed towards the horizon. We're goin' that way, Georgie. Don't go losin' you head.
It didn't take long for the Treetop Bar to disappear in the rear view mirror. I still didn't know exactly why I'd agreed to this or what I'd done to deserve being dragged off my chair, away from my beer. Sure, I said I thought I another Rockabilly Billy show would be an amazing thing. And it's entirely possible that I was talking big to impress the company present -- Dolly and Sue, Rex and Tex the Younger, and Julia Dream.

Julia Dream, my dream boat queen. It hard not to think about that kiss and about the three things she told me -- which, I will recount as present, for posterity, if for no other reason, even if it incurs a little of her wrath. I don't think it will, though. Any reason there was for secrecy has long since passed.

So there I was driving the Caddy and Bill Hisself was sitting in the passenger seat, staring out at the road ahead from under his rhinestone stetson. He never said stop nor go. He never told me to turn or that I ought to expect to turn. The road south just unspooled in front of us like an old cassette tape.

Finally, I asked him how in the hell I was supposed to know where someplace with a generic and uninspired name like The Place, was supposed to be. He chuckled a little and told me to keep driving. 

Are you even going to tell me when we're gonna get there?

Bill clicked his teeth. You got to relax some, Pilgrim George. That there is half your problem. 

My problem?

Even though I kept my eyes on the road and the quickly fading daylight, I felt him turn and stare me down. Yessir, Pilgrim George. You got to relax. 

Now I was tired from the drive and from fighting that Caddy to keep it on the road. And I was thirsty and I hadn't eat since that morning. He dragged me away from my beer, from the comfortable confines of the Treetop Bar, and he dragged me away from Julia Dream. It was with the fading taste of her kiss on my lips that  I lifted my foot off the gas and stomped the break pedal. It like to take all of my weight to make that beast dig in and stop in a giant cloud of dust and rock and road debris.

Goddammit Bill! Now I know you're Himself and all that but I really think you made a mistake in dragging me out like this. I know I talked big, and I'm really sorry, but...

I heard him click his teeth again. He pulled his tobacco pouch out of vest pocket and started to roll another cigarette with his long, strong fingers. Then he shook his head and spoke like he was quoting scripture:

"I have it in commission, to comfort the feeble-minded, and to support the weak. You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you, we will lend you our help, we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake; we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you, we will be made all things to you, rather than you shall be left behind."


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