"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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8/25/09: Crossing North Dakota

The Prairie Fire helped. I slept like a stone and woke up early Tuesday feeling energized and still ecstatic that Manitoba was right up the road.

I found coffee and a bench where I could charge my phone and again get my bearings. As I prepared to head west on US-2, I was mostly unfamiliar with this part of the country although I had HEARD of Minot and Williston. I saw on the map that I would eventually pass thru the towns of Michigan and Devil's Lake on the way toward Montana, and chuckled at the fun I could have with my Michigan Facebookers. I'll admit it: I'm an ass sometimes!

I didn't know what to expect of US-2 as I walked to the well- placed light pole next to the busy divided highway. I drew up and hung my sign for Minot, and then began to update the website figuring I could get a lot done if rides were scarce. I'd have no problem just killing the day here. This was a nice spot and I thought that perhaps I would pay for yesterday's 300-mile sprint.

Apparently my road credit was still good. After less than an hour, I heard a man yelling from a semi behind me asking where I was going. When I yelled, "Minot!" he waved me over to the truck and I was again on my way. This time, surprisingly, in my third semi.

Lonnie was from Minnesota, looked to be somewhere in his late 40's, was driving all the way to Minot, then south to Bismarck the next morning. He had been driving the same route for years, and was on his way first to Devil's Lake to make two dropoffs then to Minot for the night. Initially, it seemed as though this would be one of the quieter rides ever. He was engrossed in his XM's Old Time Radio Drama channel, and that was fine with me. I love that stuff too, and it would give me an opportunity to finish my updates and have a quick text chat with Leslie, whom I had been chatting with periodically since Sunday. The ride all the way to Devil's Lake was pretty mundane, but things changed quickly once we resumed toward Minot.

Lonnie and I shared many personality traits! Our conversations began in earnest when I told him about how I had refused to kneel before Skippy, my last radio boss. He loved that, and began to tell stories of how he had repeatedly challenged and confronted supposed authority throughout his adult life, and had quit jobs rather than perform professional fellatio. This sent us down my familiar path: sociology and politics. He was perhaps more of an anarchist than even I am. Lonnie hated everything about governmental interference, was apparently prepared for any sort of social upheaval, and seemed convinced it was coming. He also loved to bitch about politicians of all kinds and, of course, this made the last of this leg fly by!

Toward the end of the ride, Lonnie showed a great degree of respect for what I was doing, and why. He too was disgusted by media and convinced that the world is nothing like the picture portrayed nightly on television. When we pulled into the dingy truckstop in Minot, 220 miles from where we started, I again had a new friend.

Minot had a much different feel than the towns further east. It appeared that I had arrived in a dirty, industrial town that may not be quite as hospitable as the others I had recently seen. I was now in what Joel had termed "West River," the area west of the Missouri River that was much more blue collar than the east. Lonnie had told me that the majority of the many trucks on the road were on their way to the western part of North Dakota. There had been a bit of an oil boom, which contributed to N. Dakota being nearly untouched by the economic "crisis" and having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. He also gave me a piece of advice about my route, saying that if I continued on US-2 to avoid the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation. Apparently, whites weren't well received in this, as he described it, violent swath of land.

After 300 miles on Monday, and 220 in this one ride already on Tuesday, I was quite certain things were going to slow down. The other shoe HAD to drop, regardless of the traffic, right? Wrong. I had just gotten coffee, made my "Williston" sign, and had yet to even sit down when a young guy filling his Jeep Cherokee waved me over and invited me along. Will was driving from his home in Minnesota to Williston, where he worked in an oil field. He made the 300+ mile commute often and liked to have company. As we set off again on US-2, it dawned on me that three of my four rides had been from Minnesota and that they had all stopped more out of habit than pity. Will was no exception. He said he had just talked to his wife and that he had not mentioned picking me up because she hates him picking up hitchers. At first, it seemed that Will was just a quiet oil worker, but as we began to get comfortable with each other he proved to be, while soft-spoken and deliberate, a keen observer, extremely intelligent, and very insightful.

The first thing I noticed was his disdain for environmentalists. He had grown up near Duluth and told how environmental activists had contributed to the decimation of the ore industry in northern Minnesota. Lonnie had made similar remarks on the way to Minot, and now Will immediately echoed the sentiment that liberals, while a severe minority in the region, were raising legislative havoc because they were coming in from places like California, and Californicating. They were mobilized. I found the similar tones in consecutive conversations ironic, but not shocking. It also further cemented my feeling that there is going to be a conservative backlash that will blindside progressives.

Mind you, neither Lonnie nor Will had any love for George Bush or Ronald Reagan; they both hated all politicians. Yet, they were disgusted by the short sighted, blind, often destructive idealism that comes from living a life of abstraction. The ore industry was one example, but Will recounted a half-dozen other examples of how liberal activists had tried (and failed) to enact ridiculous legislation that would have simply crippled other elements of the economy; creating more problems than solutions.

One example Will gave was horses. There was apparently an attempt to legislate how much an owner could WORK a horse on any given day! Four hours! Beyond that, the animal rights activists wanted to dictate how, to whom, and I believe how often, an owner could sell a horse. When a horse went lame, they would then demand, through legislation, the horse be taken to a vet to be "humanely disposed of," costing something like $250.

Think about this for a second: if you can't sell a horse, yet can't feed it, what are you going to do? If this same horse is sick, you surely can't afford $250 to have it put it down. When you're prohibited from using a $1 bullet, your only alternatives are to let it starve or release it into the wild... to starve... which would surely throw PETA into a self-righteous tizzy over a situation that they themselves created via ill-conceived legislation. To reiterate, thankfully none of these proposed ideas went anywhere, but you can see where their minds are. And where they are not.

I'm not able to recall all the details, and am sure I'm not doing it justice, but this was the crux of the conversation on his annoyance with short sighted liberalism. Another example he provided was that in the oil fields, workers are prohibited, under threat of heavy fines, to disturb ANY bird nest on ANY piece of equipment where eggs or chicks are present. He then told a story of how they were forced to shut down a rig completely because a species of bird in the area of the rig had, as he put it, "stopped fucking." I wonder, do PETA members also bitch about the price of gas?

I am no fan of the oil industry and if you believe I'm defending them, you're either a tree hugger, or missing my point. Or, perhaps I'm not being clear. That happens. Idealism has its place, but when it's guided by those refusing to leave books, statistical studies, or think tanks; refusing to leave their Bubbles of Theoretical Abstraction, it's doomed. When its engine is driven by the economic elite or trust fund babies, who have little idea what it's like to struggle to feed a family and have never experienced poverty beyond documentaries or a sheltered charity adventure trip, it's doomed. When those who drive an ideology believe that a college indoctrination program alone has made them "wise," it's doomed and destined to fall prey to the aforementioned conservative backlash that I guarantee you is brewing just beneath the surface.

It's easy to tout high ideals when you have a security blanket and nothing tangible to lose by telling others how they must live. There is a reason that most conservative minded people (nothing to do with Republicanism) come from the lower income brackets. When the job that could be lost due to activist or governmental influence is yours, and your children could go hungry as a result, you tend to care less about "birds fucking." History has shown that this makes even libertarian minded independents susceptible to the influence of whack jobs like Limbaugh & Palin because politicians are professional exploiters of emotion. And what's their alternative? There is no other alternative. Liberals seem to think that the sword with which they vanquished John McCain, disgust, cannot be turned on them. Get back to me in a few years; the next cycle is going to make the Bush years look like Camelot.

Chris McCandless has been a hot topic because of the trip to Carthage, and it's interesting to note that people in Alaska view him as a complete douchebag; an arrogant fool who had no idea what he was getting into and deserved his fate. I have never gotten past that he came from a wealthy background, and had to know in the back of his mind that wealth was waiting for him when he decided to unplug from this adopted lifestyle. If you have the safety net of family wealth waiting when you return, you are likely on nothing more than a fucking field trip under the guise of living noble, pretentious ideals; imposing your "fierce moral code." I wonder, if McCandless' father had been an oil worker put out of work by "birds not fucking," rather than a NASA engineer, would he would have thought twice about burning his money? Would he have sent his trust fund off to OXFAM to be gobbled up by the bureaucracy?

Was that a rant? I think not. Not quite. No alert required.

Will and I plainly hit it off well, and I was sure to tell him how I appreciated his glimpse around the corner at another side. It was nice to get perspective from someone who was fair and had a clear understanding of the different factors, and repercussions, involved. Conversations like these with Will and Lonnie reminded me a great deal of my chats with Eric while maintaining foreclosed houses around Denver, and further nudged me toward the conclusion that governmental legislation is not the answer to these abstract ethical questions- and that I LOVE the people up here!

Will dropped me on the far east end of Williston at what he described as the best truckstop in town. It was teeming with oil related traffic, and had a 24-hour restaurant where I could treat myself to a bottomless cup of coffee while I continued to update. As I walked in, a man of native descent got up from dinner with his family and offered to buy me dinner. I was a bit taken aback by both the gesture, and the look of empathy on his face. He seemed deeply concerned and I immediately wondered, "Do I smell like pee?"

I thanked him and accepted because I had not had a full meal in quite a while. A mushroom swiss burger sounded damn good indeed! Moments after I sat down and ordered, when he went to pay his bill, I stepped over to say thanks again and shake his hand. When I did, he handed me $10... on top of my food. When I responded with a puzzled look, he told me that his brother had been a hitchhiker...and had been hit by a car. This was his way of honoring him. I wasn't going to take that away from him out of arrogance or fake pride. Did I need the money? Not really. And it obviously meant a great deal for him to do this. I didn't realize it, but this was only the beginning.  A theme was set for my time in Williston and beyond.

I settled in to the booth and spent the next several hours drinking coffee, writing, and chatting with the waitresses and drunk customers who came in after their bar closed. A quick peek showed that there was next to no place to hide, so I resolved to stay awake as long as I could and be productive. Several pots of coffee later, I was on the edge of overdosing on caffeine and exhausted. I wandered across the adjacent Walmart parking lot and found some high grass in which to nap for an hour or two until the sun came up.

At least I was guaranteed an early start on what turned out to be a bizarre Wednesday...