Rich and I got up and around at about 8:45, packed up, and walked across the on-ramp to get some coffee while he continued to remind me of a dog; he would metaphorically howl at each train whistle. Rich also resumed yesterday’s indecisiveness as we headed toward the library, again getting on my nerves but I was getting a little help from the coffee and the ideas/ possibilities floating around in my head.
The ideas from the day before were still with me, and I began to consider ways to earn some money while I was in La Grande. The possibilities seemed limited due to the small size of the town, but I thought I’d at least sniff around... a little.
I stopped into what I thought was a staffing place that turned out to be training for displaced workers; mostly loggers in this area I was told.
I then stopped at the ‘local’ radio station. This had been an idea that had been stuck in my brain since Ft. Morgan. I knew EXACTLY how it would go but I was curious to see if there were ANY stations left in America that actually had a person, inside, who could discuss something without first having to go through ‘corporate’; outside of “Santa Fe Skippy” of course.
I went inside and was greeted by the friendly receptionist, whom I’m sure was wondering what this dude in the backpack wanted. I explained to her what I was doing with the trip, that I was trying to figure out ways to make some money while on the road and that I was interested in doing some production and voice work while I was in town. I then asked her about their ownership situation, and she went into the typical diatribe about how they owned ‘several local stations in Eastern Oregon’. That phrase reeked of familiarity. I pressed on and asked if the owner actually lived in La Grande, since the sign outside said ‘local’. She conceded that the owner was actually based in Pendleton and was only in town a day or two a week. A- HA! I asked if there was even a Program Director: he too was mysteriously unavailable. I deduced from my experience, and her vagueness, that this station was likely programmed from Pendleton too.
Now I was really curious.
There was no other activity in the building, so I asked if the station was live or voice- tracked. Voice tracking means they record the ‘shows’ prior to their airing; sometimes days ahead of time and even occasionally from different cities. She answered that they have ‘live local news and sports every morning!”. HA! Now I knew. She was leery of disclosing the secret that the ‘live and local’ station definitely was NOT ‘live’ and probably wasn’t ‘local’! I pressed on and asked again if they were voice tracked, and she finally relented, admitting that all of their programming outside of the morning newscast is piped in by satellite. Probably Jones Networks out of Denver. Their ‘local’ station in La Grande probably consisted of nothing more than a sales staff and some equipment to feed the transmitter. The sales swine were probably out hocking commercials, which explained the lack of personnel. The receptionist was only there to answer phones, give the impression that there was actual ‘life’ to the station and, of course, in case anyone came in wanting to buy advertising. I just laughed. From there it was a game of cat and mouse, with me asking questions I knew she would not want to answer, but I decided to cut her some slack. It was not her fault. I gave her the link to my audio webpage and left quite satisfied that everything I have ever said about my old business was correct. Radio is now truly obsolete.
I feel bad for the good people who hang on hoping it gets better; like a man hoping his wife will recover from terminal cancer. The sales staff will soon enough be the only people working locally, still trying to convince businesses (that know better) that someone, ANYONE, is still listening to their canned, sterile, ‘product’, and that the listeners are stupid enough not to just ‘punch out’ when the music stops, despite the fact that common sense and radio’s OWN studies say otherwise!
How do they expect you to listen to some generic, pre- packaged ‘product’ that has no REAL local angle, no immediacy, no interaction AND have to deal with the horrendous commercials screaming at you to buy another new car?!? Christ, you cannot even get traffic or weather information during a tornado warning anymore because there is NO ONE in the building! Google: Clear Channel’s Minot fiasco. I’ve asked radio ‘professionals’ that EXACT question, and have NEVER gotten a real answer! I was fed some pre-practiced pep- talk, or as is the case with my last gig, told I should ‘get on board’!
No. However, feel free to stay aboard the Titanic if you choose; I’ll take my chances with the sharks. No real solutions. No real innovations. Just recycled buzz phrases and sales pitches.
I’ve also asked “Why listen to this crap, when you can just get a satellite radio, or better yet plug in your Mp3 player and listen to what you want?” Christ, that’s what I did when I worked there!
I’ll tell you how they ‘expect’ that.
Ever see “American Beauty”? Annette Benning’s character, we’ll call her Vera, sells real estate and behind closed doors has to listen to motivational tapes and repeat Stuart Smiley mantras (I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I WILL sell this house today!) in the mirror, brainwashing herself into believing that she’s doing something honorable and worthwhile, and that money's mythological powers will reanimate a dead soul. Sounds like religion!
Radio folk are the same. I can just see the sales staff being led by the owner or GM in some cult- like chant beginning their day trying to brainwash themselves into believing that they’re not merely whores, and ‘motivate’ themselves into believing that everything’s going to be all right when they “hit that goal”.
Sounds like something Heaven’s Gate would have done.
In fact, I have seen these cultist rally sessions in real life and no, not in Nuremberg. They call them ‘staff meetings’. I’m quite certain that a lot of these uber, disturbingly positive people- while at work- go home and kick the dog, smack the kid, and guzzle Popov to restore some sense of peace & balance.
Rich went ahead to the library so he wouldn’t have to wait, but I also wanted to rediscover what it felt like not to hear his incessant bitching. It was gooood.
I got to the library, checked in with the librarian to get a computer and find out how long I’d have. She said 30 minutes, but sort of with a wink. That reminded me of what I had hated about other places. Santa Fe, Cambria: The ‘Internet Nazis’ who kick you off after your 30-60 minutes... even if the place is empty.
I started updating the journal, uploading pictures, and sent a couple Couchsurf requests to Boise. I kept going... and going... and was never asked to leave. I was unsure as to when I would have internet again; I wanted to get as much done as I could. Rich had been online too, but finished up shortly after I’d gotten there. He resumed the ‘dog in a cage’ routine again... running to and fro... occasionally stopping by to chat, ask silly questions, and look over my shoulder; obviously annoyed that his annoyance had no effect on me.
In time, he had had enough. He said he was heading off to try to catch another train, and if that didn’t work he would then get in touch with some girl he’d dated at one time... who just "happened" to live in La Grande. I found that to be an odd coincidence. Like the 13 y/o who “gets laid over the summer”: “She’s from Niagara Falls, you wouldn’t know her”.
I didn’t care. Carry on Wayward Son.
Unceremoniously that was it. We did the obligatory ‘keep in touch’ stuff, each knowing that would not happen. I half expected a repeat of the day before when he’d suddenly reappeared, but I’ve neither seen or heard from him since. The Lesson of Rich? Choose your travel partners carefully, AND be prepared to go your own way when they get to be too much. He was a decent guy, and in all honesty I got pretty lucky with him. He wasn’t ripping me off, breaking into houses, trying to shoplift etc. I actually felt comfortable with him around. We just had different ideas of how to travel, different goals, and definitely different ways of going about things. Moreover, he howled at trains. I hope he got to Telluride ok.
After about three hours, I left the library, got some coffee, and aimed myself back toward I-84, still pondering whether to stop into the McDonalds next to last- night’s nest to see about work, or just start hitching. I walked right past McDonalds, got MORE coffee, and planted myself on the ramp. I guess I was ready to leave the hospitality of La Grande behind me. I had no luck for about an hour, so I started walking toward the next exit and a truck stop I had learned was there. Just as I got to the top of the ramp, a pickup pulled over and I had my first ride.
Earl was going as far as North Powder, 20-40 miles up I-84. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride! He was a VERY pleasant guy, probably 65 or 70, who had spent his life driving Caterpillars until he tipped one over and had broken his hip & back. He was now involved in logging and drove perhaps the dustiest pickup I had ever seen.
Earl dropped me off at a tiny café/ general store in North Powder so I went inside to try Rich’s idea of canned food; buying it in small quantities to last a day or two and take advantage of carrying less water- weight while hitchhiking. Canned food is definitely cheaper. I grabbed a few cans of Pork & Beans, and Beef byproduct Stew and began chatting up a guy who was standing in line and was interested in my backpack. As I went out the door, another guy who had overheard the conversation asked where I was going, and then offered me a ride to Ontario, 80 miles up the road and on the Idaho border. I was thrilled and thought how much easier this was without Rich!
Jordan Dimick was a bee farmer; the first I’d ever met. It was a kind of family business, and he had a wonderful pride in that family and its place in Oregon history. I-84 roughly follows the Oregon Trail, which I hadn’t realized until very recently. That greatly appealed to my sense of history, and so did his numerous tidbits of trivia about the old trail. He also told me an interesting story about how his great- grandfather was a sheriff and had thwarted the last attempted train robbery in the West. Another entirely enjoyable ride that I thought ended too soon. He had offered to take me to the first exit across the Idaho border, but I asked him to drop me at the last Ontario exit, so I could actually walk across the Snake River and get my silly picture.
There happened to be a truck stop, so I got an Idaho map, replaced my little earbuds that were falling apart, then sat down in the grass out by the road to repack and prepare for my walk across The Snake. An interesting mullet- bound character sheepishly walked up to me and asked if I was from around there. I thought that was a stupid question, with me sitting in the grass next to a backpack, so I said laughingly “Does it LOOK like it?” assuming he was panhandling. He slinked into the truck stop, and I continued what I was doing. By the time he would come back out toward the road, looking quite disoriented, I was feeling like an ass. I hollered at him to come over and asked what he was looking for.
Walt told me he’d just gotten out of prison and all he was given was a bus ticket to Albuquerque... they’d sent all the money he went in with to his Parole Officer as “insurance that he’d show up”. So, here was a guy who’d just paid his “debt to society”, left broke and trying to find a way to get some food. Not the first time I have heard this story. I immediately remembered the person in La Grande unexpectedly handing me $5. While I could not spare the money, I had food. I dug out a can of Pork & Beans (later to be to the chagrin of his fellow Greyhounders!) and let him have at it.
It turns out that Walt had spent three years in prison for running drugs from Arizona to Oregon. He was up front about it, so I said “So, you’re not one of the ‘I didn’t do it’ guys then?” He said, “Oh hell no. Guilty as hell.”
I love honesty.
He told me about the bust and that the cops had seized $20,000 in cash and a cache of guns in the process. He then told me how NONE of the guns and only $600 made it into the arrest report! Beneficial for him, no doubt. But it makes one wonder where all that money goes, AND the guns! To protect and serve, eh? The chat ended with me wishing him luck and wishing I had had some money to spare. He seemed like a very decent person in a trip filled with very decent people.
I got back on I-84 and to the mile walk toward the Snake River, and out of Oregon. The bridge spanning The Snake was having construction work done, and was down to one lane... with a shoulder that was about 18- 24" wide. That was a hairy crossing. In retrospect, I could have walked unmolested through the construction itself, but didn’t realize that until it was too late. After what seemed like an hour, and 1000 car horns angrily letting me know what they thought of my presence, I got to the other side. Idaho. I got my silly picture, and felt damn good about the fact that I had finally walked into another state.
I began to think about how much I loved being in Oregon, and there was a twinge of regret that I had only spent a week there. The people were just as incredible as the landscape and in the same way that California’s natural beauty had exceeded all expectations; EVERYTHING in Oregon seemed to do the same. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of it.
I had NO idea what to expect. The state intrigued me, but had mostly been just a stretch of land that bordered Oregon. I kept an open mind, but actually felt sorry for any state that had to follow the one I had just left. I walked up a bit, getting some pictures of the now- setting sun, then sat down and “enjoyed” a can of Pork & Beans now realizing that a little variety in diet... if it can be called that... was nice!
Since the sun was setting and I had no urge to walk I-84 at night, I began to spy places to nest. There was a closed rest area right next to me, but when I got to the other side; I was shocked to see that there was a HOUSE next to it, complete with barking dog and curious resident. Who the HELL lives next to a rest area ON the interstate! I decided not to ask and moved on.
As it got darker, I began to try hitching again, to no avail. After a mile or two, I saw the telltale lights of a gas station on the horizon, which probably would have a decent place to bed down. I figured I would try to get there and kept going hoping for the ride that never came. I began to wonder if the exit would EVER get there, and was getting pretty tired. This was where Jordan had offered to take me.
The exit did eventually come of course, and I staggered into a Shell/A & W combo that was next to an RV park. I decided to find a place to sleep near there, hiding from the RVers. I wanted to just collapse, but went inside to use the restroom to clean up a bit, and to try the “write off” trick. Some places, when they have food that they don’t sell... usually hot dogs etc. ... will throw the stuff out at a certain time. If you are there, they will sometimes let you have it rather than just waste it. Worked like a charm. I loaded up on corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, and tornadoes, said thanks and sat down to feast.
At the counter chatting with the girl working the register, was an older biker- type guy who obviously LOVED to talk! He told me that I should abandon my original plan to stealth camp behind the RV Park and just sleep in the grass in front of it and right behind the store; no one would say a thing. I said I would give it a look and the guy proceeded to join me at my table.
He was 69 years old and REALLY LOVED to talk! While I was eating, he told me all about his life. His 11 kids. Indian heritage. Two stints in different branches of the military. He reminded me in some ways of Pat; still not sure why. It was the perfect dinner conversation because I did not have to say a thing!
Eventually my new friend left, and I walked out back to see my accommodations. I picked a spot behind a rather large metal box that contained what I envisioned to be electrical things of some sort. It was actually perfect. It was 2-3 ft. high, and about 7 ft. long thus hiding me, a little, from people driving thru– although I cared little about that at this point! What a difference from Ft. Morgan and Cambria I thought to myself! There were also truckers pulling off the interstate to sleep for the night, so that made me a bit more comfortable. I figured no one looking to cause me trouble would with a lot full of truck drivers. Truckers are my friends.
The weather had been in the mid/upper 80's so I didn’t even bother with the sleeping bag, although I should have. It got chilly, but I REALLY did not want to repack it in the morning! Still wound up sleeping quite nicely- between shivers.
Travel stories and the occasional rantings of an evolving cynic who's simply in search of a little human authenticity. Tales include hitching across the Rockies with an eventual cop-killer, a weekend with a terminally-ill billionaire, meeting my siblings for the first time, trips to Mexico, and scores of random people from Mass.-Slab City-Chiapas who are often even more interesting...for better or worse!
"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Posted by Todd X at 2:11:00 PM