"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

"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

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Friday, July 31, 2009

7/12-7-31/09: Santa Fe Interlude

In 2008, my “interludes” while traveling did not go perfectly. They generally degenerated, after a few calm days, into impatience and a mad searching for signs & answers as to what step is next. This year has been different. My visit home in May was quite nice, and the rest of July continued that theme.

Once off the bus and in the apartment, I literally exhaled and collapsed from mental exhaustion. I proceeded to sleep and do little else for the better part of the first week. Chris and I had left our futures open-ended, and didn’t communicate at all that first week as he settled into whatever Denver held for him, and I basked in the old routines and familiar surroundings hoping to do a bit of a study of what had changed from a familiar perch. Perspective is a constant battle.

The first thing I noticed was that I was in no way clear that I wanted to return to the road anytime soon, if at all. I had told Laina and Chris that, on some level I was afraid that confronting my age-old demons in Michigan would leave me motivationally impotent after being the frustration-fuel for so long. I had attacked this peculiar, inwardly directed anger and seemingly neutralized it, but was afraid complacency would now take its place. Someone asked me once what motivated me to “succeed.” I was surprised myself to learn that it was indeed this anger and my healthy ego needing to “show people” something. Externalization and adapting an identity-through-praise; pure, unadulterated ego and an attempt to fill a cavernous, festering sore with someone else's skin. No wonder it was infected.

The end of this cycle was when I hit a mental rock bottom in 2004, which led to meeting Chris via his website. These two events directly connect; it was the first time I seriously considered jumping into a backpack and setting off to eliminate life’s fat in an effort to see what was truly necessary; what was real. It was also around the same time I began to take Thoreau seriously, which then led me to Gandhi’s ideas on unfiltered truth. Authenticity. I wondered now what that pursuit meant, and whether it still involved backpacking around the country and beyond. I could not answer that, but I knew in my core that something had at least fundamentally changed as to the method and purpose.

Laina and I went camping, of all things, the first weekend I was here and once on the road had a great time driving toward Pecos Canyon and sitting around the little fire drinking beer. It was the most relaxed I could remember being in a very long time, and we chatted about all sorts of things past and future. It was the perfect escape even though it was only for one beautiful, calm night. I had also had an odd conversation with Chris that Saturday afternoon. He had seemed quite lost, not exactly sure what he was doing in Denver, and I was of little help. We had truly disconnected and were on our own little quests where neither could help the other. I was quite sure he would figure it out soon enough, and it took about two days until he was happily announcing a regained energy and focus.

Over the next couple of weeks, things began to sort themselves out. After the events of June slowly but surely began to make their way to the appropriate places in the recesses of my mind, I began to notice a tangible difference in my thinking. With a gentle nudge from Shelly, I began using my father’s last name; changing it on Facebook and various email accounts as a way of getting other people (and myself) used to it. Essentially, that is the name I use now and will complete the legal paperwork soon. That was a rather bold step for me, considering that I have been quite the thorn in the saddle of some people over the past couple of months. I have no idea how Pam and Kim have reacted to it, still not hearing from either since April. Right or wrong, on some level I kind of hope it stings as a reminder every time they see it. I also began one final blog transfer, although to date it is still not ready for full activation. I have been delaying while trying to decide rather or not to begin an actual full-blown website. In all likelihood, this will happen, in URL at least. This will be the third and final one. I like the procession of the three, from Running with the Wind, to Te Nosce (Know Thyself), to this new one.

I also began to find myself keenly annoyed when I occasionally would find myself looking backwards, beyond May 20, 2008. My focus is now forward, and integrating what I had learned over the last 15-months into whatever is to come. This would turn out to be some massive, unknown foreshadowing, and was quite astounding for a man historically haunted by ghosts. Not even real ghosts as it turned out but of course, those fabricated by victimist-thinking, creating little make-believe scenarios, and then letting them become a framework for an outlook on life and identity. Pathetic? Yes. The annoyance stemmed from just REALIZING how fucking pathetic and misguided it really was. This is obviously an important conclusion, but it also opens up what could be Pandora’s Box. Inside the box: "What is next? Have the travels of the last year and the visions of future adventures sprouted from within this rusted, rotting framework?" Tough questions to ask, but they obviously needed to be. I was afraid that this was the source of the misgivings about setting out again.

Chris and I had a good conversation around the 25th where we candidly discussed the future and what it was each of us was hoping to do. I did not let on about my questions, and thankfully so because things were rapidly changing. He had begun making a ton of progress bouncing around Denver, having several discussions with Robert, the Post-Apocalypse class teacher I had met in March, about a pseudo plan that was developing. This “plan” entailed riding with them to San Francisco then Seattle on what sounded like a bit of a boat scavenger hunt. Yes. A boat. Penny (Robert’s girlfriend) and Robert had made plans to quit their jobs, hop in their veggie powered, self-contained blacksmithing van, and head toward the Northwest, presumably to seek out like-minded people and begin unplugging from what is viewed a steadily collapsing system. A system that at the same time is clearly closing in on all sides. The boat? A sailboat that would eventually be capable of sailing at least to Central and South America, and at most crosses oceans. The trip to San Francisco would be to network with friends-of-friends who would “be more than happy to teach us to sail it.” This conversation shot my energy level through the roof and we quickly found ourselves scheming ways to re-connect in August heading toward Wendie’s place on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, perhaps via the Bay Area. It slowly became apparent that perhaps I’d had enough of wandering for wandering’s sake. Now maybe it was time to get busy building something. Building what? Well, THAT IS for another post. Sorry Steve-O!

After this conversation, things seemed back to normal and we tentatively set August 4th as a date that would see him depart Denver for his “week alone in the mountains.” In the interim, we could discuss ways to meet somewhere. Somewhere like Boise, and Lynn’s place? Penny and Robert’s ideas triggered further discussions about my friend Amber in San Diego. She has continuously suggested that she “may” be interested in joining us if /when we venture into Mexico, or further. She holds dual citizenship, speaks fluent Spanish, has WWOOF-ing experience in Italy, and would be a huge help to a vagabonding troupe of gringos speaking next to no Spanish! Amber’s trouble is her family, and the fact that she is 21. No problem for me, since she does not act like a ditz, but she has traditionally been torn between going to school and living her life. Her family is also Hispanic, so there is a pressure to remain close to family. A pressure that Whitey does not always comprehend. This sent us on wild conversations about possibly meeting Penny and Robert in places like Moab, Flagstaff, Taos, or anywhere else, that may put the four of us on course toward San Diego.

Toward the end of the month, these “plans” began to get a bit more complicated due to the simple and obvious fact that we are four people who hate making plans. The obvious question then is how do four people in three different places (Penny and Robert are bound for S. New Mexico 8/9) connect… without plans?

Are you seeing a lack of cohesiveness here?

Friends, this is the aforementioned “Limbo” and a good example of your author’s feeble attempts to manipulate the fates; forgetting…again…the all too familiar reminder to, all together now, SIT DOWN & SHUT UP!

On August 1, 2009, your humble scribe would be grabbed tightly by the metaphorical throat and slammed into his seat, complete with duct tape around the mouth and wrist to force further introspection that is more genuine and a long overdue--but now possible--evaluation of purpose and ego. What will follow is for me easily the saddest and most dramatic event to date, including 2008. You folks in Denver and Colorado will take a keen interest in this when it's finally posted.

I did it to you twice Steve. In radio, they call these teases! In Te Noscestan, we call it preventing an overload.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

7/7/09: The Gestapo Comes to Kalamazoo

Chris decided to leave early to walk the 3-miles to the Kalamazoo Greyhound station, while I opted to wait to see if Brian came home. True to form, Brian returned maybe 10-minutes after Chris had left and we both had a chuckle at his impatience. Five weeks now, and these 10-minutes are just unbearable? Brian agreed to drop me off, and after a quick goodbye chat with Joey, who was still at work, we were off to find Chris and get our tickets. We found him huffing down W. Main, and after quick hugs, we got our tickets and propped ourselves outside for the 45-minute wait for our bus to Chicago.

As I was sitting outside smoking, a Kalamazoo bicycle cop rode up and let me know that “Smoking is prohibited at the Kalamazoo Transportation Center. Do... you… have… ID?” he asked rather sheepishly.

Here we fucking go again!

I had checked before I had lit up to see if there were signs posted. As I looked again, I confirmed that the no smoking signs were ambiguous at best, cleverly hung to imply that it was prohibited INSIDE the building, while there was nothing beneath the area where the buses board; where we were sitting. As I was pulling my I.D., I asked sarcastically if it had occurred to anyone to make the smoking policy, you know, clear?

After he called in my stats and discovered that I was indeed warrant-free, he astoundingly decided to confirm my suspicion: this is intentional! An excuse to give these equivalent of rent-a-cops, who apparently can't be trusted with cruisers, the “probable cause” they need to ID anyone criminal enough to be smoking a cigarette! He confidently declared that I could have been a “murderer from New Mexico” for all he knew and that he had “arrested 167 people this way over the last year alone!” Using this pathetically veiled “Papers Please!” method? I could not believe my ears. A bicycle cop was actually bragging about his own personal implementation of a pseudo Police State in Kalamazoo, or at least the parts he could pedal to!

The cops in Maryland and Tennessee had at least been smart enough to conceal their true motives, although they were no different than this guy's. This "cop" then acted a bit indignant, offended even, that I would question his tactics suggesting that I act a bit more “professional” (compliant) from now on and carrying himself as though I were lucky just to have had my privacy violated and not to have gotten a ticket to boot. A ticket I SURELY would have dragged his ass into court over.

As Goering-on-a-Bike peddled off, reminding me of Reno 911's Lt. Dangle, I was of course steaming. I cannot believe what this country is becoming; how even the most basic right to privacy is being butchered in the name of an illusion: “Fatherland Security”. While Chris had typically been less offended than I, even he was dumbfounded at this brazen display of fascism, asking repeatedly "Did he REALLY just say that?" For a state that's hemorrhaging it's population like a hemophiliac, I found this stunning on multiple levels. This was the perfect sendoff, and I was thrilled to finally be re-crossing the Mississippi that night.

PS: While Stalin would have been proud of their enforcement of the "smoking policy" and "Paper Checking," there was absolutely NO security when it came to loading baggage beneath the bus!


Go figure...

Friday, July 3, 2009

7/3/09: Meet Mike

Getting up at 10:00 after the late night was rough, but once I was packed and had dropped off the extra stuff at my mother's, we were on our way to Coldwater...a good hour later than "planned." The idea was to meet up with Mike at the familiar Big Boy around two or three o'clock. This would provide us with a few hours to eat, drink coffee, and plot. We said our goodbyes to Bob in the parking lot, and as Chris put it, let him get back to his normal life. I had spent a lot of time with him over the past month, and I remember thinking that it was nice to still have a friend or two like that! Thanks for everything, Bobby.

After we had stuffed ourselves on burgers and coffee, we moved outside and were talking about how neat it would be to hitch a plane ride, when I realized that I actually had a friend who owns a plane and reportedly likes taking people up for rides! I instantly envisioned an extravagant hop across Lake Michigan, or even a simpler one from Kalamazoo to South Bend. I was quickly on the phone to explore possibilities. Through these discussions it also became apparent that staying in Michigan may be preferable to northern Indiana, not wanting to deal with toll roads. I decided that if all went well, I'd ask Mike if we could ride with him back toward his home in Charlotte, since Battle Creek and I-94 were on his way back.

Mike arrived around 3:30 and snuck up on me! I had become rather oblivious to my surroundings by then and was looking for a different car than the one he had driven, so when I looked over and saw a silver sedan pull up I was a bit shocked when I recognized him. This took me back to meeting Shelly for the first time at the end of May. There's no protocol for these situations; no prescribed dose of pleasantries to administer when you meet a brother for the first time. I'm sure he was experiencing the same things as we shook hands, hugged, and looked each other in the eye for the first time.

Mike is shorter and a bit stockier than I, but then again so is the poster child for Feed The Children. He reminded me of myself when I was living in Denver. And eating. I had seen pictures and at various times had felt like I was looking at my younger self, when I wasn't shaving my head. He seemed to be a low key, honest, up-front person. I sensed no bullshit about him and, as we all know by now, I respect that. Standing in this parking lot were two brothers who, up until less than 48-hours ago, had been just abstract ideas to each other. We were now real. This was VERY cool! There was a good vibe and I was glad for it.

Mike had brought his 9-year old daughter, Ally, and her mother Bobbie with him too. Ally is a beautiful, blonde, bundle of energy! I knew to expect that she'd be quite shy at first, but that didn't last at all. Pretty soon she was resuming her task: relentlessly tormenting her mother. It was obvious from the start that Mike adores his little girl, and has no trouble showing it.

We spent an unexpectedly, almost inappropriately long time in the parking lot smoking, chatting, and recollecting before we finally went inside so they could eat. The story telling and questions continued as we learned more about each other and our pasts. Mike has a creative streak in him, just as Shelly does. He loves restoring cars and works at a body shop. I also was horrified to learn that he had nearly been killed not too long ago, barely getting out of the way yet having his right ankle essentially shattered by falling steel . I thought to myself, "What if that had happened? Why the hell are we in this situation again?"

The original "plan" (ha!) had been for Mike to drop us off in Angola, IN where he would pick up 4th of July fireworks for his family, then head home. I submitted my revised Battle Creek proposal after I figured out we were getting along well, and he agreed. So it was on from Coldwater to Angola for munitions and cigarette shopping. The conversations continued as we made the 20-minute drive down I-69 and the longer we hung out, the more we seemed to have to say and were at ease. No pretension; no bullshit. "Why the hell are we in this situation again?"

Fireworks and cigarettes in tow, it was time for the 40-minute drive back north, toward Battle Creek and the Te-khi truck stop on I-94. I wasn't exactly sure what our next move would be, but I had friends in the area and even if we were stuck, there were ample places to hitch and/or camp. More importantly, it wasn't far out of Mike's way. He said repeatedly that he felt "weird" about just dropping us there. I did my best to reassure him, saying that this is "what we do", and not to worry, although I did appreciate the concern. What I envisioned as a quick drop off turned into yet another 30-45 minute conversation, in yet another parking lot! I had to laugh at the mild, typical concerns that I'd had about not having anything to say to each other! This was great! After taking some pictures, shaking hands and hugging again, they were off. As I watched him drive away, the reality that we may not see each other for a while, or often enough, set in. We had obviously connected on some level, and I was actually sad to see him go. "Why the hell are we in this situation again?", I asked one last time.

Meeting Mike was the perfect, unexpected possible ending to the "Eastern Phase" of this little adventure. He was the one that I had, unfairly, held the least hope for based on "old intel," and I rightfully and religiously have been chastising myself for making any judgment at all. I should have permanently learned that lesson with Lynn. One thing I've had reinforced repeatedly over June, and now July, is that I need to get my own answers and draw my own conclusions. See the world unfiltered. I have written a lot about that, but find myself failing at some important times. To do that, I need to eliminate preconceived notions, or at least suspend them. Thankfully, Mike decided to do that with me and I'm glad I chose to listen to Shelly when she encouraged me to try to contact him. They unknowingly threw me a rope and rescued me from my own shortsightedness. In the process they helped me to reinforce this lesson and shrink it down from an abstract "social" concept to a tangible, applicable "personal" tool. Maybe I've helped them in that respect too.

The smell of diesel exhaust triggered feelings of familiarity after Mike left. I felt oddly back in my comfort zone, and immediately called Shelly to let her know how things went. I then gave Joey a call in Kalamazoo to tell him what has been going on. He almost immediately offered to come and pick us up. Less than 2-hours after Mike dropped us off, we were back in Kalamazoo, where this eventful Michigan excursion had started a month before. Unfortunately, the plane-hitching idea fell through, but not for a shortage of interest! Adam's plane was in the shop, but otherwise said he would have loved to fly us out of Michigan! Maybe next time...

Being back at Brian & Joey's was a study in short-term contrasts. I began to compare where I was just four short weeks ago as opposed to now; only beginning to feel twinges of the effects of June. I was mentally exhausted, numb, and feeling an odd, nervous contentment. My only nagging concern was rather I was being just as shortsighted with Mike's sisters, Pam and Kim, as I had been with Mike. I had yet to see any indications otherwise and, quite honestly, I was too mentally cashed to go hunting again anyhow. That might have to wait...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

6/29-7/2/09: Sit Down & Shut Up

Sunday night around the fire was profound. Chris and I had discussed several times how difficult it is to grasp the concept that we as individuals are NOT the center of the entire universe, despite the fact that our eyes make it seem we are! When serendipity or "fate" is discussed, it's often from the perspective that these events only involve or happen to us, or because of us. That's the ego at work, and oftentimes we forget the obvious fact that others also make decisions and live their lives, thereby affecting the paths presented to us. Their application of freewill sometimes requires us to simply sit still until they play things out. With my ever evolving mastery if the English language, I describe it as being put in a state of limbo and told to "Sit the fuck down, and shut the fuck up!" Ever the wordsmith, I.

If you're unable to let go of the ego's need for control, this limbo it will feel like confusion; you'll be unclear about which path to take. There's a simple explanation for that: It hasn't been decided yet, or you're waiting for someone else on the path to come to you. There have been several examples of this, both this year and last, with the most dramatic this year being with the Church Lady the day Chris's mom decided not to pick us up in New Jersey. Last year's preeminent examples were in McCammon, ID and Randleman, NC. Chris and I have talked at length about it, but it has been one of the most difficult lessons because it requires continuous neutering of the pesky ego: a practice in patience. Sunday, we remembered it and decided to put it to the test. We resolved to sit still and let things happen, while eagerly anticipating Wednesday to see if some dramatic event would unfold. That's exactly what we did.

Monday was spent playing softball one last time, and again sitting around a small campfire chatting. Tuesday was even less eventful, except for yet another campfire. The conversations on these days, however, were quite enlightening. This was a time for us to both reflect back on the past 3-months, and begin to finally grasp exactly what we had experienced as a whole, AND to apply some lessons and ideas as we move forward. Ideas about the next phase became a bit more clear as we chatted about Denver, Santa Fe, Boise, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, England, and even Mexico. Most significantly, we decided to tell someone about this revelation on Sunday. We told Bob we were going to sit tight until Wednesday, thinking something significant was going to happen. If nothing happened Wednesday, Bob would drop us off in Indiana either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. All that was left was to see if it did...

Did it ever.

My brother Mike responded to that 10-day old Facebook request. I immediately sent him an email telling him that I was planning on leaving VERY soon, but that if he was interested I'd love to meet him and would arrange my "schedule" around it. Shit, that's WHY I'm here, after all! He replied that night and said he was definitely interested in getting together before we left, but needed to find out if he was getting a three day weekend for July 4th. If so, we could get together Friday. He wouldn't know until the next day, but after chatting for an hour or so on Yahoo, it was clear that I was going nowhere just yet-even if I needed to wait thru the weekend.

I really liked Mike. Through our little online chat, he and I traded a few stories as we began the now-familiar process of comparing notes, and hitting it off quite well. His reminded me of the response I had gotten from my cousin, Dewey, when he first found out I was related to him. This was NOT the Mike I expected, although to be fair, he's also easily the sibling I knew the LEAST about. I got his number, and made arrangements to call him Thursday night to see about Friday. I immediately called Shelly to let her know what had happened, and of course she was thrilled.

Thursday was understandably a bit restless. I devised a scheme where we could possibly meet Mike in Coldwater rather than Hillsdale on Friday, and would ask if he could drop us off in Angola, IN where I-80/90 comes through. If Mike couldn't make it, perhaps Bob would get us there instead. Either way, we could get on the road Friday.

I finally drafted the email to my father, which I had mysteriously been putting off four four days. I laid out the time line of events, and exactly who I had been in contact with and for how long. In it, I could now also tell him that Mike and I were in touch, and possibly getting together. I hoped that this email didn't reverberate too much, but at least it was the truth. At least now people may be able to speak freely, if they choose to. That can't be a bad thing, and neither can the man knowing who stands where. I sent copies to Shelly and Lynn, and decided to let Mike know when he called. After this, all there was to do was prepare to leave and wait for 7pm to roll around.

Mike did indeed get the day off. Friday was a go. I was stoked. I've never had a brother and I was about to meet one...and apparently a very cool one at that. We had a nice chat on the phone, and he liked the Coldwater/Angola idea. He asked if he could bring his daughter, Ally, and her mother with him so that they could all go fireworks shopping, since they were going to be in Angola. Another niece? Hell, yeah!

Thursday night was a going away party of sorts. We had another fire in Bob's yard, and drank a whole lotta beer. Ian and Travis hung out for a bit, as did Bob's neighbors. No phones were sacrificed, so it was a good night, yet it was obvious that I was ready to go. Somewhere around midnight I mentally checked out of Hillsdale. Unfortunately, I didn't check into bed until 4:30!